* For up-to-date numbers of infections and deaths in every country, visit the John Hopkins COVID-19 interactive map.
Perhaps the most debilitating symptom of the coronavirus is fear. Officially a global pandemic, and declared a national emergency in America, the coronavirus is producing widespread fear and panic. Is this fear merited? And what should our mindset be as Christians in this time of national anxiety?
There has been a great deal of misleading and conflicting information surrounding this disease, so let’s take a moment to review some basics. This virus belongs to the corona family of viruses. At least four types of coronaviruses cause very mild infections every year, like the common cold. Most people get infected with one or more of these viruses at some point in their lives.
Two mutations of the coronavirus have produced deadly epidemics in the past. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) broke out in China in 2002–2003. It was contained after sickening 8,422 people and killing 916, producing a fatality rate of 11%. Similarly, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) first broke out in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and again in South Korea in 2015. Of the 2,494 laboratory confirmed cases of MERS, 858 resulted in death, producing a fatality rate of about 35%.
In December a novel coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China—meaning a coronavirus strain that has not been previously found in people. The going theory is that it is an illness that jumped from a bat to some other animal before transmitting it to humans. Because it is a cross-species virus, our bodies have not built up natural immunities to defend against it, making us particularly susceptible.
Labeled SARS-CoV-2, this virus attaches to the lung and produces an illness officially known as COVID-19, although Chinese scientists suspect the virus may have already mutated into two strains—one being more aggressive than the other. To contract the illness, it must be inhaled. A recent study suggests that SARS-CoV-2 can remain in the air for up to three hours after a person sneezes, and it can remain on copper surfaces for four hours, or cardboard for up to 24 hours. Another study in February suggested that if COVID-19 is similar to SARS and MERS, it might be capable of living on hard surfaces for up to nine days. Regardless, it is highly communicable. Most people will contract the virus from being coughed and sneezed upon or by touching a contaminated object and then touching their nose or mouth.
Victims may become symptomatic in as little as two days, or as many as 14 days. However, carriers are thought to become contagious before showing symptoms. These symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Early symptoms follow those of the common cold, but among some, the virus can lead to pneumonia, respiratory failure, and in some cases, septic shock.
According to data on the first 44,000 cases released by Chinese authorities, 80% of cases are mild, with victims only experiencing cold and flu-like symptoms. Approximately 20% require hospitalization. The Telegraph reports, “In roughly 14 per cent of cases the virus causes severe disease, including pneumonia, and shortness of breath. In about five per cent of patients it is critical, leading to respiratory failure, septic shock and multiple organ failure.” However, the death rate remains relatively low at 3.4%—far lower than the mortality rates of SARS (10%) and MERS (35%). In Wuhan, where the disease first appeared and the health care system was quickly overwhelmed, the death rate was as high as 5.8%. In the remainder of China, the rate was only 0.7%.
Many believe the actual mortality rate should be considerably lower. The numbers may be inflated due to an overwhelmed health system in China and Italy. More importantly, the numbers fail to factor-in those who contract the illness but are not tested. This is believed to be a very large populace. Some believe the estimated fatality rate may truly be around 1%. According to an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases:
If one assumes that the number of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic cases is several times as high as the number of reported cases, the case fatality rate may be considerably less than 1%. This suggests that the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%) or a pandemic influenza (similar to those in 1957 and 1968) rather than a disease similar to SARS or MERS, which have had case fatality rates of 9 to 10% and 36%, respectively.
A lot remains unknown, and all the numbers remain subject to unforeseen factors, such as the possibility of overwhelmed health care systems in Europe and America. Our data concerning the coronavirus is uncertain because the majority of the data comes from China who has a long history of manipulating numbers. During the SARS epidemic, China endeavored to limit information and to conceal cases from the World Health Organization inspectors. Here too, China appears to again be suppressing information and prioritizing the interests of the government above accurately assessing and addressing the threat.
The number of infected people in an area doubles roughly every six days. As of 8:25 p.m., March 13, there are 144,514 confirmed cases in 130 countries with 5,398 deaths. The vast majority of these cases are from China, with 80,945 cases and 3,180 deaths. However, Europe has recently, had a rash of outbreaks. Italy has been hit the hardest with 17,660 cases and 1,266 deaths.
Here in the United States, we have 1,992 known cases and 43 deaths. Twenty-six of these deaths were from a single nursing home in Washington State. In fact, the vast majority of deaths have occurred among the very elderly, who are by far the most at risk. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the average age among those who have died is 80. Moreover, many of these victims had complicating medical conditions.
The younger the individuals, the less likely they are to contract COVID-19, and the more likely they are to experience mild symptoms. Centers for Disease Control data from 72,314 cases diagnosed with COVID-19 as of February 11 show that only 8.1% of cases were in their 20s, 1.2% were teenagers, and 0.9% were nine years of age or younger. Likewise, the mortality rate was 14.8% in people 80 or older compared against 1.3% in those in their 50s, 0.4% in their 40s, and 0.2% in those between the ages of 10 and 39.
Like many respiratory illnesses, one’s risk is directly related to one’s age, lifestyle habits, and overall health. It appears that 96–99% of all people who contract COVID-19 will recover. Those who do not recover will likely be above the age of 70 and will likely have chronic health complications. As such, while highly contagious, the actual risk to the vast majority of Americans is no greater than any other seasonal disease, such as influenza. Certainly, those who do not panic over the threat of catching influenza or even the possibility of developing pneumonia have no reason to panic over the coronavirus.
Presently, 43 people have died in the United States from the coronavirus. Globally, 4,982 have died. By comparison, as many as 61,000 people died in America during the 2017–2018 flu season. According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 12,000 and 61,000 people will die in any given year from the flu. Globally, between 291,000 and 646,000 will die every year from the flu. Given these figures, how is it that we have whipped ourselves into a national panic over the coronavirus?
Similarly, over 37,000 people die every year from automobile accidents. Among these, over 1,600 children below the age of 15 die. Considering that children and teenagers have only a 1.2% chance of contracting the coronavirus and nearly 0% chance of death apart from any underlying medical complication, it seems that we should be far more concerned about automobile accidents among our nation’s youth than the coronavirus.
Certainly, the coronavirus is scary, contagious, and deadly for some. And the number of people infected appears poised to skyrocket. Nevertheless, it seems that the spirit of fear and panic that has gripped our nation is unfounded. For this reason alone, we should resist the temptation to allow common-sense concern to grow into worry and fear. But as Christians, we have other reasons to avoid fear and panic.
While I believe we should do what we can to reasonably protect ourselves and those for whom we are responsible, I also believe in the providence of God. Regardless of what transpires around us, we can rest assured that our God remains in control. This coronavirus is not a surprise to our God, and it won’t change His plan for each of our lives. God has allotted to each of us a finite number of days to live (Psa. 139:16). Nothing we do can extend this number (Job 14:1, 5). Likewise, the coronavirus will not reduce our allotted number of days.
For this reason, we are called to cast all our anxieties upon God (1 Pet. 5:7). For some, this coronavirus will be used to bring their allotted number of days to an end. But even they are blessed because of what the Christian gains in death (Php. 1:21–24). For others, God has a continued plan for their lives, and He will see them through these days. Even if they cannot find hand sanitizer or wet wipes, God has promised to care for and provide for them throughout their allotted days (Matt. 6:27, 34).
Whether we live or die from this virus may already be a forgone conclusion to God, but it is not a known conclusion to us. This is why we ought always to live every day to its fullest and not take tomorrow for granted (James 4:13–15; Psa. 90:10, 12). Moments like this—when we are confronted with death—reminds us not to squander our good days and the opportunities afforded to us. It also brings a sense of perspective (Ecc. 7:2). So, let’s seize this opportunity to place our true confidence in the Lord and to become more purposeful in how we live our lives!
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