China is grappling with an outbreak walking pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses, the World Heath Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explained this week after photos of crowded Chinese hospitals started circulating online.
Mycoplasma pneumonia — which is generally less serious than other kinds of pneumonia — and more common illnesses have reportedly been spreading in China since May — especially among children. Doctors and health organizations say the infections are nothing to worry about — they are known, treatable and cyclical, which means cases increase regularly every few years.
Despite experts’ assurances, Americans are grappling with ghosts of pandemics past. COVID-19 also started as nothing to worry about — and ended in an almost two-year disruption of normal life punctuated by mandatory house arrests.
Though there are superficial similarities, there’s no indication this outbreak will endanger Americans’ lives; and even if we were in danger, the Bible repeatedly tells believers not to be afraid.
That being said, the situation still warrants care and prayer. The COVID-19 pandemic showed believers how viral outbreaks can endanger freedom to:
In late 2020 and early 2021, several states implemented public health regulations stopping churches from opening — even when other businesses could. To name a few:
- Nevada put a fifty-person limit on religious services, but allowed casinos to operate at 50% capacity.
- California prevented more than three families from gathering inside or outside in a home to worship.
- Colorado forced congregations to wear masks and observe more stringent restrictions than secular businesses, including spas.
These restrictions were largely upheld until after the COVID-19 vaccination came out.
Many, like Magdalena Hennessey, are suffering the spiritual fall-out.
Magdalena, her father Matthew Hennessey writes for the Wall Street Journal, used to attend church regularly, until the family’s church was forced online.
“I couldn’t blame [Mags] for [not watching online mass],” Hennessey writes. “Christ was spiritually present in our hearts but substantially present in the Eucharist miles away. Receiving him in the sacrament matters to Catholics.”
Magdalena’s aversion to mask and propensity for coughing prevented her from attending services even when churches re-opened. Her family has been unable to get her to return.
Between church and school lockdowns, children disproportionately suffered the effects of arguably overzealous lockdowns.
America’s Education Recovery Scorecard (ERS), designed by researchers from Harvard, Stanford, Johns Hopkins and Dartmouth to measure how online learning affected children’s education, found “math, reading and history scores from the past three years show that students experienced a significant decline during the pandemic.”
Harvard Magazine continues,
The [Education Recovery Scorecard] team’s calculations indicate that by the spring of 2022, the average student was lagging by approximately one-half year in math and one-third of a year in reading.
Children in districts with poor pre-pandemic test scores reportedly fell even more behind — as did children with special needs.
In May 2020, I returned to my job at a learning center for children with disabilities. When the facility re-opened after a months-long pandemic closure, the children’s social skills, concentration, and ability to listen had uniformly declined.
Habits the kids had worked hard to form were undone. Goals they had achieved were lost. They were forced to wear masks, which to many felt like sensory torture.
Their parents weren’t feeling any better. I vividly remember a mom recounting a trip she’d made to Costco with her hearing impaired child. A customer had yelled at her for not wearing a mask — not knowing (or caring) her child couldn’t understand her directions without lip reading.
Regarding church closures, Hennessey believes weak church leaders exacerbated the problem,
“The pandemic was as much a political event as it was a public-health crisis,” he writes. “Church leaders, spooked at the thought of appearing partisan, failed in their duty to stand up for religious freedom.”
“The habits of religious worship are delicate. Once broken, they aren’t easily patched together. This is especially true for those who live at the margins of society, which is sadly true of the disabled. Religious leaders had better remember that the next time they are ordered to lock up and bug out. They better remember Magdalena.”
Hennessey’s point can be generalized to school closures and other pandemic disruptions; Human’s spiritual habits are delicate — and so are their educational, relational, mental and physical ones.
Sweeping political legislation — arguably disproportionate to COVID-19’s danger — harmed some of the most vulnerable people in our society by destroying the institutions that ordered and preserved their habits.
The Bible commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves, which means believers should prevent what happened to kids during the pandemic from happening again.
Believers, then, should pray for discernment in times of sickness and turmoil to identify:
Don’t let a little cold scare you into lockdown and don’t fall asleep on the job. Be prayerful and vigilant in protecting the weak.