Abnormally Abnormal

05-03-2020Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

If you’ve even lightly perused the prescriptions for Pandemic prevention, you probably have whiplash. Way back in February we were told that wearing face masks really won’t help much. Anyone listening to that had to scratch their head? How is that not effective, then why do medical staff wear them? The reality was that there were not enough masks to go around. That was obvious enough after every store in Tempe sold out of them after the first coronavirus case appeared at ASU. But rather than tell us, “hey save the masks for the medical people”, we got a bogus excuse. Now we are told wear the darn thing. But if we wear them why do we have to still be six feet apart? Droplets from a cough or sneeze can travel maximum 10 feet before dropping to the ground. So why the 6 feet and not 10 for social distancing?

Then we were told to Shelter in Place to stop the spread of the virus so that we do not overwhelm the healthcare system and collapse it. So, we stayed home and we underwhelmed the healthcare system (except NY) and it’s close to collapse. In one Valley Hospital there were about 3 people in the entire hospital of a few hundred beds. I asked one of the nurses who works there, “is no one getting heart attacks, strokes, brain tumors, kidney stones, gall bladder?”. She said certainly they are but we scared them off and they don't come to the hospital. And what’s worse is that when they do finally come, they are much sicker, much harder to treat and much more expensive to treat. Then she added, that is, if we can treat them as they have furloughed a lot of the staff and the Hospital is hemorrhaging cash and might slide into bankruptcy. So, in order to deal with one health care crisis, we created another health care crisis. Then there’s the 55% increase in alcohol sales and the similar for cannabis. Maybe another health care crisis of a different sort is looming.

Then there is Flatten the Curve. So, it looks like we have but maybe we haven’t. Here in Arizona there is so little testing that we don't know if the virus is less now or was worse in March or vice versa. This week there was a spike in positives but there was also more testing being done. So that tells us nothing accurate about the curve. With the new testing blitz that’s coming there will be lots more positives but that does not necessarily mean the curve is going up even though the numbers are going up. Got that? There was also the warning to try to avoid the virus at all costs however we need lots of people to get it so we can develop herd immunity. One report stated that the virus dies in seconds in sunlight and 95-degree heat. But then, the hot summer will not slow the spread of the virus. Then the really bad news, no back to normal until a vaccine is developed. Of course, that will take at least a year or more but researchers are very close. Then there is this one stubborn fact, that no vaccine has ever been developed for coronavirus. Remember that is the family of viruses from which comes one form of the common cold. Since the SARS Virus (which was also from the coronavirus family) outbreak in 2002 no vaccine has been developed and not for lack of trying.

Then there’s my favorite, particularly when it comes to potential treatments: it’s only antidotal evidence. Well antidotal evidence is still evidence, it’s even admissible in a Court of Law. Since it was only antidotal evidence it should be dismissed out of hand, we were told. However, the models that predicted 2.2 million dead Americans were based on antidotal evidence and yet we were told we must not ignore such evidence. Then the pièce de résistance: while Covid-19 can damage the lungs severely, smokers seem to be better able to resist the virus. In France they are giving some healthcare workers nicotine patches as a clinical trial for a prophylaxis. Feel the whiplash yet?

I realize that the initial thinking was that this was the most-deadly virus ever in the history of ever. Therefore, we used models based on incomplete data and then policy decisions based on a lot of assumptions. Fine. But now we have much better data about who the virus affects most severely and that the virus has affected a lot of people without causing any symptoms and kills far less people than feared. There is still a lot we do not know but from what we do know we should be able to make better informed policy decisions about how to proceed.

My point is not to be snarky or overly critical. But it is this kind of bifurcated information that will cause problems when we re-open society. Conflicting information as the above will cause divisiveness to increase. And that in turn leads to a breakdown in trust. Trust between people is essential to a peaceful society. Some jurisdictions are asking people to report other people who are not adhering to the new dogmas and doctrines. Every heretic will be ferreted out, publicly shamed and humiliated. That is the first phase of turning on one another. The more restrictive the precautions are the more critical of one another we will become. And with a long list of precautions, like ants at a picnic the Trial and Contingency lawyers will appear to extract large sums of money from businesses that do not enforce every jot and tittle of the rules.

The “new normal” will not be normally abnormal but rather abnormally abnormal. By the end of it we will hate each other, turn on each other, snitch on each other and resent our neighbor, and all be living the Hunger Games Reality Series, unless…

We commit ourselves to unwaveringly practice charity and patience and tolerance. Do not add to the mistrust and divisiveness but seek to be a peacemaker. Now is the time for us Christians to really put into practice the spiritual practices that Jesus desires of His followers. As the old hymn says, “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Live and let live.


Fr. John B.