Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.

Fear Factor

05-31-2020Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

FDR famously said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Well, since mid-March we have been immersed in an ocean of fear in the form of conflicting, confusing, and politicized medical and scientific information. The virus is real and it sickens a lot of people and is lethal to certain groups. But today we know a lot more about the virus than we did in March and that should help reduce our levels of fear. Still we have to sort through so much conflicting, confusing, and ever-changing information to lessen our fears.

Fear Factor # 1: is that asymptomatic people can transmit the virus. Well that puts you at odds with every other person. Basically, with that thinking you need to avoid everybody. That includes people you live with if they go out and come back in. What we know now, is that the virus is spread through droplets from sneezing, coughing or saliva. So, even if everyone is a potential spreader, we don't have to fear coming in contact with everyone but we do have to avoid sneezing, coughing on anyone. Fear Factor #2: was that not only everyone but everything was a potential spreader. The CDC had on their website that the virus could live on surfaces for a long time so avoid touching this or that. They have since taken that down and now state that the primary way the virus is transmitted is human to human close contact with the exchange of droplets from an infected person. So, the boxes you get from Amazon are not going to kill you.

Fear Factor #3 is that antibodies may not protect you from the virus. This goes against the entire science of immunology and what we know of how the immune system works. Once the immune system develops antibodies to a virus it stores them it its memory and recalls them as needed. The question really is how long the immunity will last with this virus. Will it be like the immunity you get for measles or small pox or will it be like the immunity you get from the flu. In the first case you probably won’t get sick with measles more than once but you can get the flu more than once. Still the antibodies for the flu will go to work and get you better. If the antibodies with this virus can’t defend against it in otherwise healthy people, then we have to start over with our understanding of how the human immune systems work. If we stick to the science of immunology, we can be confident that once developed in your immune system, the antibodies will work to help you fend off the virus or recover from it more quickly. I think it is safe to say that this virus interacts with the immune system like other viruses and from that we can base our understanding of how humans fight off this brand of coronavirus.

Fear Factor #4 would be that we can’t be safe until a vaccine is found. However, if it is correct that antibodies do not protect against the virus then a vaccine would be useless since vaccines work on the principle of kicking in your immune system to develop antibodies. So, what would be the point? The rush to develop a vaccine conflicts with the idea that antibodies may not protect against the virus. Not to be cynical but whoever holds the patent on a vaccine gets the goose that lays the golden egg.

Honorable mention in the Fear Factor factory goes to the politicization of different treatments. The first was the use of ventilators. I heard one reporter ask the President, “can you guarantee that everyone who needs a ventilator will get one?”. Really was he supposed to pull them out of his ears? Businesses worked quickly to make more ventilators and it turns out a lot less were needed and that the use of ventilators in general did not lead to very good outcomes for the infected. Then of course there is hydroxychloroquine plus or minus zinc and an antibiotic. Talk about a hot potato. If it is not helping it is killing, evidence is only antidotal, crime against humanity, perpetrating a fraud etc. I do know some people who used it and say it helped. Whether that proves anything I don't know. But I find it interesting that a very old and very widely used medication and very inexpensive one is in the crossfires of political posturing while a relatively new and very expensive drug like Remdesivir is being touted as helpful. What’s behind that? Still it should encourage us that physicians are responsibly throwing every treatment they can think of that might work to save those who are not recovering on their own until they can find out what works and what doesn't.

If we set aside the Fear Factors, what do we know for certain about COVID-19? We know that this virus acts and behaves like other viruses. We also know that the human immune system works against this virus as it does against other viruses. And because we have not yet developed much immunity to this new virus, it will continue to spread and sicken many people. As mass immunity is developed the frequency of the virus will lessen. We also know that this virus is spread like other respiratory viruses, namely through bodily fluid, in this case human nasal mucous and oral saliva. We know that we should cover our nose and mouth if we sneeze or cough and immediately wash our hands. We also know that this virus is particularly hard on certain high-risk individuals but not so hard on otherwise healthy individuals. We also know the symptoms of this virus: headache, difficulty breathing, cough, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, loss of smell and taste and that they can appear between 2-14 days post exposure. We also know that if you are feeling sick with these symptoms you need to take yourself out of circulation and get tested asap. If you are positive you need to let those you are in or have been in close contact with know about it so they can monitor themselves for symptoms.

By sorting through the Fear Factors we can have a lot more certainty which can calm our fears. The already proven science behind immunology and virology gives us confidence that this virus can be contained, controlled and treatments developed to help heal the sick. But because of this Pandemic and the fear that the Quarantine period has caused, there will be a lot of PTSD issues: mental health issues like depression, suicidal thinking, panic disorders, anxiety, substance abuse, alcoholism, eating disorders, cutting disorder, agoraphobia, not just in adults but in children as well. So, the sooner we stop letting fear rule over us the healthier we will be all around. We don't want to trade out one Pandemic for another sort of one.

Be not afraid. He’s still got the whole world in his hands--- even a world with COVID-19.


Fr. John B.