Dispatches From My Dining Room (No 3): A COVID-19 Easter

This Easter weekend was one of the strangest I can remember. Holy Week didn’t feel quite like Holy Week. Easter didn’t feel quite like Easter.

As rather “older” members and sometimes leaders of our last church, we generally hosted large Easter gatherings in our home – the kind of open invitation gathering where everyone brings a dish to share and food and people overflow everywhere. The week leading up to Easter would be full of not only contemplation of Christ and His gift of Himself for us, but also the planning of the main meal and the coordinating of logistics as we tried to work out how to cook and serve a meal for a large group of people in between a church service and toddler naptimes.

This year was different. I’d gotten Easter candy for our kiddos ahead of time (though I forgot to get an Easter egg decorating kit – oops). Matt wanted to make turkey and mashed potatoes, so he took responsibility for that, and I only needed to throw together some simple sides for just our family. We knew we’d be going nowhere, nor would we have any obligations, so we could take a pretty laid back approach to the entire day.

Sarah Bessey’s Holy Week meditations were my saving grace in the days leading up to Easter, the one thing that made me feel like we were, in fact, approaching Easter at all. Having left our church recently, we have been attending another church that we really like, but we’re not exactly plugged in yet, so we’re not even really connected to church people virtually. We did watch the livestream of that church’s Easter Sunday morning service, though, which was sweet.

The most notable thing about Holy Week for me this year was Saturday. Every other year, it has felt simply like the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday – a day to use for cleaning the house and preparing for Easter. And this year it felt almost like the main event – because we are in a Holy Saturday kind of world right now.

I found myself frustrated by the memes that loudly proclaim, “It’s Friday – but Sunday’s coming!”

Yes. That is true. It is so very true.

But the disciples didn’t know that. Jesus’s mother didn’t know that. We can’t just skip over the devastation, the suffering, the agony, the questions, the fear, the anxiety. They were so real. They mattered. That in-between day mattered.

Jesus’s people thought He was the One. They thought He was going to usher in a new era – in which He would rescue them from their Roman conquerors and set them free. They didn’t understand that He came to offer a different sort of rescue and a different sort of freedom. We can look back now at their foolishness, at their failure to understand, and scoff condescendingly. We can dismiss their Saturday, that in-between time in which they had to live with their brokenness, sitting in the reality that they had just witnessed their world fall apart.

Or we can look around us at this Holy Saturday world in which we live right now. There is so much uncertainty. There is so much we don’t know. Schools are shut down, businesses closed. We stay at home. I have not driven my car anywhere in over a month. We all have so many questions.

As of the evening of Thursday, April 14, Johns Hopkins is reporting 2,158,250 cases worldwide with 144,243 deaths. Within the United States, there are 662,045 cases with 28,998 deaths. Of those, 5,560 cases (with 170 deaths) are in Missouri. Unemployment is ravaging the country, with more than 20 million people filing claims in 4 weeks.

And no one knows what to do to fix it. We wait for doctors and scientists to develop a vaccine. We wonder if there might be treatments for the virus, medications to mitigate its effects, to decrease the probability of its fatality. Politicians debate when we should reopen the economy and get people back to work, uncertain of how best to care for millions of suffering people – or perhaps uncertain of how people will weigh the loss of others’ lives against the loss of their own financial security as they decide how to vote this fall, wondering if perhaps a loss of a couple million lives would give them a more appealing result than the continuing job losses of millions more. Our governor today extended Missouri’s stay-at-home order from April 24 to May 3. That is only a little over two weeks away, but so much can change in two weeks. We’ll see what happens. For now – we stay home, and we wait. It’s a dark, Holy Saturday kind of time.

And yet…we can also enjoy the glimmers of Easter hope. We can see some moments of flickering beauty –

Kiddos watching a dancer worship with her talent as part of the Easter church service we watched.

Snuggles with my little kids.

Andrea Bocelli singing Amazing Grace to the empty plaza in Milan – giving of what he has to sing out hope to a hurting world.

And Easter dinners with family.

May there someday be a fulfillment of that Easter morning hope after our time of Holy Saturday darkness.

And in the meantime, may Sarah Bessey’s Easter benediction be true for us all –

May you be given the gift of believing today.

May you know God in the dark.

May you abide in the country of grace even while you are in exile.

May you know and experience God With Us.

May God wipe away every tear from your eye, may there be no more death or mourning or pain – someday.

May everything be made right, may the old order of things pass away.

Even if you are beginning the resurrection from the dark, may the light break through.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life,

and so may it be well with your soul.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

The stories we tell ourselves matter. In this time of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a meme floating around that illustrates this powerfully.

But it applies more broadly, as well. I’ve been thinking about the stories I’ve told myself throughout my life. I remember, in my twenties, desperately wanting Matt to get a good job, so that I could quit my job and have babies and stay home and raise them. I literally didn’t know what to do with myself when that wasn’t happening. Part of that was truly a desire of my heart – from the time I was little, I have always been determined that I wanted to have children and build a family. My new year’s resolution at the age of 4 was to have lots of babies! And I wanted to take care of my babies – I had worked in daycare, and I knew that I didn’t want my kids spending 40+ hours a week there. But also, I had fully embraced the story that good Christian women got married, had babies, and quit their jobs. As a rule-following perfectionist, obviously this was what I was going to do. I remember being absolutely shocked when my therapist at the time suggested that not everything was absolutely black and white, and perhaps there was a way that I could have children while also working. WHO KNEW?!?

And now, at the age of 37, I have had (and adopted) the babies. I am raising them (while working part time). We have a good life. And yet – I wonder about the stories I am embracing and occupying.

It is ironic to me that a major catalyst for both Matt and me examining the stories we tell ourselves was our participation in the evangelical movement of adoption. Adoption seemed, on the surface, to contain the perfect story of beauty and redemption – there is a child who has no family, and I step in and become their family, just like God had adopted me into His family while I, a sinner, had been an orphan separated from Him, and we all celebrate this triumph. But wait. That child DID have a family at one point. Why do they not have a family anymore? Could there be evil involved there? Perhaps that evil is direct. Maybe there was trafficking. Perhaps it is murkier – pervasive systems of injustice, poverty, and racism. Also, need it be said that I am no savior? Any story I tell in which the analogy sets me up to be the God-figure deserves to be questioned. And while my adoption into God’s family is described as a transition from sin and brokenness to love and wholeness, my child left one beautiful language and culture in order to be assimilated into another lifestyle – that is a loss. The reality is far more gray than the story we tell.

I began to realize that that might be true for other stories, too. I’m reading Glennon Doyle’s book, Untamed.

She writes of women, “[W]e do not honor our own bodies, curiosity, hunger, judgment, experience, or ambition. Instead, we lock away our true selves. Women who are best at this disappearing act earn the highest praise: She is so selfless. Can you imagine? The epitome of womanhood is to lose one’s self completely” (p 116).

I wonder – where is my self? I don’t know.

I spent the first seven years of Matt’s and my marriage working to pay off debt and support him as he pursued the career of his dreams, and I followed him to Missouri once he got that job offer for which we had both yearned. We had our first baby in 2010 and brought home our last in 2016, and I have fought to get everyone set up with every medical treatment and service that they need. I have been homeschooling everyone. These are good things. I have wanted to do every single one of them.

I have watched other people’s children and delivered more meals than I can count. I have met with people to talk about all manner of struggles and offer what counsel I could. Those are also good things.

But I also wonder – am I living the life that God designed me to live? Am I using all of the gifts He has given me? Am I experiencing the resonance that comes with doing what I was born to do?

Glennon Doyle also writes, “I quit spending my life trying to control myself and began to trust myself. We only control what we don’t trust. We can either control our selves or love our selves, but we can’t do both. Love is the opposite of control. Love demands trust” (p 116).

I excel at self-control.

And she says specifically of motherhood, “Mothers have martyred themselves in their children’s names since the beginning of time. We have lived as if she who disappears the most, loves the most. We have been conditioned to prove our love by slowly ceasing to exist…When we call martyrdom love we teach our children that when love begins, life ends. This is why Jung suggested: There is no greater burden on a child than the unlived life of a parent. What if love is not the process of disappearing for the beloved but of emerging for the beloved? What if a mother’s responsibility is teaching her children that love does not lock the lover away but frees her? What if a responsible mother is not one who shows her children how to slowly die but how to stay wildly alive until the day she dies? What if the call of motherhood is not to be a martyr but to be a model?” (p 128).

I do not feel like I am wildly alive.

I debate with myself about whether this matters. Is this just a first world problem? Am I having a mid-life crisis? Do other people feel this way? Am I selfish to want to feel wildly alive?

I believe in a wholehearted love of my people. I believe that love is sometimes – often – sacrifice. Jesus tells us, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13). Even as He laid down His life, He did not lay down His self. He fulfilled all of who He was as He lived – and died – on earth.

Am I fulfilling my self as I go about my daily life? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I like my life. I like the work I do. I want to keep doing it. And yet, I think there is more to it than being whatever anyone else needs me to be in any given moment. I don’t know what that looks like. Glennon Doyle writes, “Heartbreak delivers your purpose…We all want purpose and connection. Tell me what breaks your heart, and I’ll point you toward both” (p 269).

I just started the book Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us about Freedom, by Kelley Nikondeha, last weekend. In her introduction, Sarah Bessey writes, “For too long the notion of biblical womanhood has felt weak and ineffectual, a cookie-cutter version of a 1950s sitcom that didn’t even exist in real life, and yet it crippled and silenced generations of women in the church. In Defiant, Kelley lays out a feast for us of the truth about biblical womanhood: the resistance, the strength, the civil disobedience, the collaboration, the truth-telling, the drumming, the wit, the holy liberated power of women who know their God. She connects everything she learned from the women of Exodus to the women of our past and our time whose subversive strength continues to spell the downfall of evil and injustice. In these pages, you will learn to recognize women at work. This book is more than permission; it’s a clear call to rise up to the Exodus mandate for all of us” (p x-xi).

That sounds so inspiring for me. I wonder, can I be part of that?

I don’t really know what to do or how to do it.

I want to try to figure it out. I want to be part of that story.

Dispatches From My Dining Room (No 2): COVID-19 Extreme Social Distancing: The First Couple Weeks

As I shared in my last post, our family started staying home whenever possible on Thursday, March 12. For us, the transition is nowhere near as significant as for others. We already homeschool our children. Matt already had some flexibility to his schedule and was home some during the days.

But it is still a very different situation. We are intentional in providing opportunities for our children to learn from the world around us and interact with other people. In our normal life, all four kids swim multiple times a week. The older girls and I usually ride horses about once a week. All four kids participate in a homeschool enrichment group 3-4 mornings a month. FangFang has weekly physical therapy. We have outings to the library and the park. We attend art shows and go to the zoo. This homeschooling world in which we’re all now living is very different than actual, normal homeschooling. That said, again, I acknowledge that the transition is much less jarring for us than it is for those being thrust into homeschooling with just a few days’ notice.

Really, compared to what many families are facing right now, we have virtually the ideal scenario. The primary structure of our lives is staying mostly the same. Both Matt’s and my jobs are pretty secure, at least in the short term. Many people are far less fortunate than we are.

We spent our first couple days at home doing our regular school days and trying to better prepare ourselves for going out less. I emptied out our deep freeze entirely and re-organized it and cataloged its contents. Our oven had died, so we researched ranges and ordered a new one. I planned meals for the next two weeks, and Saturday morning I made what I planned to be my last in-store grocery shopping trip for quite a while. By this point, though, other people had also realized that this was going to be a thing. The run on toilet paper had begun. I arrived at Aldi before it opened to find a line forming outside the door! There were a few items I was not able to get at Aldi (almond milk, butter), but between Aldi and Hyvee, I was able to get everything I needed, plus add a bit to our supply of stored food downstairs.

It’s hard to know how much to buy. On the one hand, we are a fairly large family – I spend over $200 a week on groceries on an average week, so to shop for two weeks at a time is a significant undertaking. In an average week, we probably make one mid-week stop at the store for something, and obviously we’d want to limit that, too. And in this time of uncertainty and increased risk of illness, it seems wise to have some additional items on hand – cough medicine, for one thing, Gatorade, Sprite, etc. I’ve settled on trying not to go completely crazy with stocking up but also trying to be well prepared.

Mizzou was continuing to monitor the situation and update their plans for the semester. As of Thursday, March 12, they had said that all teaching was to be done remotely, but faculty and staff were still to report to campus as needed but start planning in case it became unwise to do so. On Friday, March 13, they announced that the switch to remote teaching, as opposed to holding in-person classes, would be extended through the entirety of the spring semester.

Courtney was supposed to come visit that weekend, and we canceled that. Her job is still requiring her to come in daily, and she would still be giving riding lessons for another week, and even now (with multiple cities in Missouri under stay at home orders), she is continuing to have to do appointments for potential adoptions. She is attempting to minimize her exposure – she certainly is not interested in getting the coronavirus – but there is not much she can do if her job is requiring her to interact with the public. With multiple high risk people in our house, she and I talked about it and decided it just wasn’t a good idea to risk having her come. That was one of the first big changes for our family life, in this period of staying home – not just not going to big events, but not having anyone at all come over.

Although Columbia Public Schools were still in session, most people acknowledged that we were slowly marching toward closure – not a question of “if” but “when,” and I started receiving inquiries about homeschooling advice, which prompted these two posts, as well as some e-mails and private messages.

We continued our usual school activities.

Finding ourselves with a bit more time on our hands than usual, the big kids and I have been catching up on some of their lapbook projects.

On Monday, March 16, Columbia Public Schools announced that they would close effective Wednesday. On Tuesday, March 17, Boone County recorded its first positive test result for COVID-19 (there were 16 positive cases in the state at that time), thereby confirming that it was truly here, and Mizzou announced that same day that all buildings were going to be locked, and everyone possible would need to begin working from home. Matt went into campus to get everything he thought he might need in the coming weeks and months from both the art building and his studio. On Thursday, March 19 (still just 1 positive case in Boone County – with 1 death; 28 cases statewide), Mizzou reiterated that no one was to work on campus unless specifically directed to do so by their supervisor.

With some of the big changes in our lives and schedules relating so heavily to physical activity, I’ve known that we would need to be finding time to get outside and move around as much as possible. We’ve been taking a lot of walks, though as this Snap suggests, it has been something of a strange experience.

It’s strange how quickly the intensity of the current guidance to stay distant from other people begins to feel almost normal. I find myself watching tv shows and alternately marveling at how close the characters are standing to one another and wanting to jump up and warn them that they are putting themselves at risk!

One of my current irritations is with parents who allow their children outside without supervision when those children clearly do not understand the idea of not getting within 6 feet of any other people. Obviously each parent must determine for themselves whether their children are mature enough to be outside without supervision, but that standard changes a bit during a global pandemic. In my normal life, I would love to hang out with all the children – but not right now. And if I have to tell your child to back off, then your child is clearly not mature enough to handle being outside without supervision during this time.

Other than that, though, we have been enjoying our walks and our time outside!

Yesterday we even had a picnic and did some of our school reading outside!

Of course, there are days when the weather is not so nice, and those are harder. I’ve been doing some workouts on our elliptical, and the kids and I have all been doing some body-weight exercises and exercises with some small dumbbells.

Being without an oven for several weeks – especially during this time – has been challenging for me in planning meals, but also for Miranda, our resident baker. One day she and I looked up recipes and she tried making a cake in our bread machine! The bottom got a bit burnt, but otherwise it was good, and it was a fun experience for her.

We did finally get our new range this week, for which I was very thankful. After a delivery scheduled during a generally unhelpful 12 hour window – during which the store actually failed to deliver the range – and many phone calls and much follow-up from me, it arrived on Wednesday, a day after it was supposed to come. It’s nothing special but nice to be back to having a fully functional kitchen!

Having more time at home, I’ve been trying to tackle some projects around the house.

Another thing I’ve enjoyed has been having more time to read. I have been making my way through a few different books, and the older girls are also really into reading right now. We’ve been trying to have a quiet reading time at least a few afternoons a week.

And as for the statistics, after having 16 positive test results on Tuesday, March 17, a week later, on Tuesday, March 24, Missouri had recorded 255 cases (with Boone County having 20 positive cases). Effective Wednesday morning, we are under stay at home orders from both the City of Columbia and Boone County. As of yesterday, Thursday, March 26, Missouri was reporting 502 cases (with 25 in Boone County) and 8 deaths. As of yesterday, the United States, for the first time, reports more cases than any other country in the world (with 81,321 cases and over 1,000 deaths), and also as of yesterday, the worldwide count of cases surpassed 500,000. Watching the numbers, I suspect we will pass 600,000 worldwide today.

My mom was supposed to visit us this weekend, but as the Director of Emergency Management for her county (so far 56 cases out of Wisconsin’s 755 total), she is working 14-16 hour days and will not be able to come see us.

In terms of our own personal experience during this time of the coronavirus and social distancing, I am missing the ability to see people outside of my own little family unit. I’m sad to be missing out on plans I’d made to see both Courtney and my mom, as well as other friends. My dad’s visit for next month will likely also need to be canceled.

Beyond that, it honestly feels somewhat relaxing. It’s a strange juxtaposition, being faced daily with the gravity of the situation, knowing that people are dying every day, that medical providers in our very own country are being forced to work without the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), and knowing that what I do may have grave consequences, both for my family and my community – but that what I am supposed to do, stay at home as much as possible, feels not like acting the part of a valiant warrior but more like having a stay-cation.

The first thing I do each morning and the last thing I do each night is check my phone for coronavirus news updates. It feels of supreme importance – and yet, actually, no matter what the websites and articles say, today will be another day of staying home. I spent the early days of our time at home posting articles on Facebook encouraging social distancing – but now, I know that those who are going to understand the gravity of the situation probably already do, and there is likely nothing I can say to those who choose to to continue to listen to President Trump’s dangerous rhetoric, despite its dissonance from the opinion of every respected medical professional.

I wonder what is ahead for us all. While I obviously do not want to see the economy continue to crash, I think it is inevitable. Sending people back to work – to get sick and die – will not help. I wonder how helpful the relief bill Congress is working on will be. We can definitely use the money but are generally okay financially for now. While we are home, I’m also trying to work some extra hours to help us rebuild our emergency fund.

I hope and pray that others in my city, in my state, and in my country will stay home if they can. I hope that the PPE and ventilators our medical professionals and our hospitals – and ultimately, we – need will arrive in time. I hope we can flatten the curve. I hope we can see our friends and family again soon. I hope they’re all okay. I hope this isn’t as bad as I suspect it will be.

Dispatches From My Dining Room (No 1): COVID-19 Social Distancing: The Lead-Up

I read an article today in which a historian suggested keeping a record of your life during this strange time in which we are living. I myself have wondered – what was it like to be alive during the spread of the Spanish Flu of 1918? What was the atmosphere like in America in the 1940s and 1950s, as thousands of children (including my father) contracted polio? I wonder what my children will remember 30 years from now (and whether they will ask me to recount for them what it was like from my perspective). I wonder what questions my grandchildren will have. And for those reasons, and because my blog already serves as a sort of journal for our family, I’ve decided to do occasional blog posts about our lives during this time.

Today I’m sharing about our family’s particular experience of the time leading up to the day we started practicing extreme social distancing.

Having two daughters who were born in China, we try to follow news coming out of China. I texted an article to my mom (the Director of Emergency Management for her county) and the rest of my family about the coronavirus on January 22. It seemed potentially worrisome but still so far away from us.

On February 24, I sent an article to them that had the headline, “Past Time to Tell the Public: “It Will Probably Go Pandemic, and We Should All Prepare Now”.” By that point, the United States had only 14 diagnosed cases of the coronavirus (the first had been on January 21st), but 14 cases, across multiple states, of a disease that seemed to spread exponentially, seemed like just the beginning.

Our president, Donald Trump, had been making comments that downplayed the significance of the virus. According to a New York Times article compiling his statements and comparing them to what was going on in the world, he stated, on January 31, “Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” On February 10, he said, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” His statement on February 19 was that, “I think the numbers are going to get progressively better as we go along.” On February 23, he said that the situation was, “very much under control.” But on that same day, “the World Health Organization announced that the virus was in 30 countries, with 78,811 confirmed cases, a more than fivefold increase over the previous three weeks.”

On February 26, he said, “We’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.” That is not at all what seemed to be happening, though. That same day, this was the snap I sent to a few close friends (for fear of being seen as alarmist, I didn’t want to send it out to everyone).

I’d made a special mid-week grocery shopping trip to both Aldi and Hyvee and spent about $600 getting us stocked up on non-perishable food items, frozen vegetables, and toiletries. Little did I know that it was going to be toilet paper that was the big item (who could have guessed?) – but fortunately, we have that set to be delivered to us monthly through an Amazon subscription, so we’re fine for now! I may need to start looking for some, though, if Amazon is unable to fulfill my regular monthly order.

Trump continued to double down on his claims, stating on February 27, “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”

Meanwhile, cities, states, and public and private institutions were beginning to prepare for the arrival of the virus. On March 5, the University of Missouri, where Matt is a professor, instructed faculty to begin thinking about how they could deliver in-person course material through other means.

Amid reports from all around the country that there was a shortage of testing kids, Trump said on March 6, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.” This is patently untrue, as basically every media outlet has reported. On March 7, Trump stated, “I’m not concerned at all.” On that same day, Missouri’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was diagnosed. Of course, because of the shortage of testing kits, no one knows whether it was truly the first case in the state.

On March 10, Trump said, “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” The next day, Wednesday, March 11, the University of Missouri sent out an e-mail in the morning informing the campus that some students and faculty had attended a conference the prior weekend from which another attendee (not from Mizzou) had later been diagnosed a presumptive positive for COVID-19. A few hours later, that afternoon, the University announced that as of 5:00 pm that day, in-person classes were suspended through the following Sunday, at which point professors would be expected to teach their formerly in-person classes remotely for March 16-20, the week leading up to spring break. They stated that they hoped to resume in-person classes on Monday, March 30, but honestly, I cannot imagine anyone actually thought that would happen. Even though Missouri had only 1 diagnosed case at that point, students, faculty, and staff could travel all over the world during that spring break week and come back to campus having faced innumerable exposures.

The University of Missouri putting into place its plans for remote instruction had a domino effect for us (and, I suspect, for many others). Up until that point, we had been living life relatively normally. We were expecting this to come, and we were beginning to prepare, but we didn’t know exactly when or how. The prior weekend, I had been visiting my best friend, Courtney, hanging out, riding horses, and just getting in some good, quality self-care time.

That day, Wednesday the 11th, I enjoyed a long lunch date with some friends and then came home and took the kids to swim practice. That’s where we were when we heard that Mizzou was canceling its in-person classes. A few minutes later, we received word that the swim meet that our club was supposed to host that weekend at the Mizzou Rec Center had been canceled by the university. I had been scheduled to work about 15-20 hours of volunteer time at that meet, and I’ll admit, I was getting increasingly nervous about it, knowing that swimmers (and their families and coaches) would be traveling from all around to attend the meet, and that there would be large numbers of people in close quarters at the arena. I was relieved when it was canceled.

The combination of in-person classes being canceled and the swim meet being canceled meant that we theoretically could begin staying home. Public K-12 schools here were still in session. There was not yet a mass effort at social distancing. But we knew it was becoming increasingly likely that the coronavirus could be present in and spreading within our community. Matt and I talked about it that night after the kids were in bed and decided that this was the moment – we were going to start staying home. We kept the kids home from their homeschool enrichment group the next morning, and though we did have to run one family errand, that day, Thursday, March 12, is what we consider to be our first day of extreme social distancing.

In my next post, I’ll share more about what these first days of staying at home have looked like for us!

Coronavirus 2020: Why We Are Staying Home – And Why I’d Encourage You to Stay Home, Too, If You Can

Like most of the rest of the world, I have been following the news of the coronavirus closely for the last couple months. Having two daughters from China, I was particularly struck by reports of this new virus killing people and shutting down cities in that country that will always have a piece of my heart.

And then it spread – and now it is here in the States. And each of us is faced with the question – what should we do now? Even if we could trust the leaders of our country (and the evidence is clear that we cannot), each of us is responsible for ourselves, and, in a broader sense, we are all bound together as a society, and we share responsibility for what happens to us all. We are all responsible for making wise choices, but when there is no clear, competent leadership, we have an even greater individual responsibility.

Initial data indicates that without intervention, each person infected with the coronavirus transmits it to somewhere between 2 and 3 other people. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that its incubation period is probably between 1 and 14 days – meaning that people can transmit the virus to others for up to two weeks before they develop symptoms themselves. And they also state that, “older persons and persons with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes)  appear to develop serious illness more often than others.”

Its mortality rate, right now, seems to be around 3-4%. But, beyond that, we can see significant issues. For instance, “Around 20% of cases require hospitalization, 5% of cases require the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and around 2.5% require very intensive help, with items such as ventilators or ECMO (extra-corporeal oxygenation).” Our hospital systems in America simply do not have the capacity to provide ICU care to the numbers of people who may need it. The same article states, “A few years ago, the US had a total of 250 ECMO machines…So if you suddenly have 100,000 people infected…Around 20,000 will require hospitalization, 5,000 will need the ICU, and 1,000 will need machines that we don’t have enough of today. And that’s just with 100,000 cases.”

As of yesterday, there were about 3,500 people who tested positive for the coronavirus in the States. However, one of our earliest failures in fighting this disease has been in testing. A Johns Hopkins physician was quoted last week (back when the official tally of cases was 1,600) as saying, “Don’t believe the numbers when you see, even on our Johns Hopkins website, that 1,600 Americans have the virus…No, that means 1,600 got the test, tested positive. There are probably 25 to 50 people who have the virus for every one person who is confirmed…I think we have between 50,000 and half a million cases right now walking around in the United States.” This article explains in great detail how we can estimate case numbers and project into the future.

There are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the city or county in which we live. But what does that mean? It certainly does not mean there are no cases. It means that there may be cases…but we don’t know it yet. And quite probably, those people who have the virus don’t know it yet either.

So what do we do?

I believe we need to start acting like there are cases here. And, as many are advocating, we need to do everything we can to flatten the curve. If everyone gets sick at once, our healthcare system (our hospitals, our ICUs, our ventilators, our ECMO machines, our doctors, our nurses) will be overwhelmed. This is already happening in Italy. They are having to make decisions about who to treat – who will live and who will likely die. No one wants that to happen here.

And there is something each and every one of us can do to work to prevent it. This brief Washington Post article with simulations does an amazing job explaining and showing why social distancing works. Please check it out. Look at what happens when everyone moves around normally. Look what happens when only one in four people continue to move around. And then look to see what the results are with only one in eight people moving around. The difference is dramatic.

Some people cannot stay home. Doctors and nurses, of course, cannot. My 66-year-old mother who is a Wisconsin county’s Director of Emergency Management cannot. We all need to eat, and those who work at grocery stores will continue to work. Many people have no savings and will be required by their employers to continue to come in to work. However, there are a great many of us who have tremendous privilege, who are able to stay at home. It would be impossible to get any of our cities to a point where everyone stays home 100% of the time – but can we get to a point where only one in eight of us are moving around regularly, or even one in four? Can we slow the spread of the coronavirus enough that we will truly flatten the curve, so that our healthcare systems and our doctors and nurses and other hospital staff members are not pushed beyond their capacities?

I hope so. Lives depend on it. You may be young and healthy, and likely you would be fine, even if you contract the virus (though there are no guarantees). But that is not true for everyone. The mortality rate for those over 80 is around 14%. China’s CDC indicates that the mortality rate, “was 10.5% for those with cardiovascular disease, 7.3% for those with diabetes, 6.3% for people with chronic respiratory diseases such as COPD, 6.0% for people with hypertension, and 5.6% for those with cancer.”

Within my little family, risks are high. I have exercise-induced asthma, which may (but also may not) be an additional risk factor. But for two members out of our family of six, their underlying medical conditions could make the coronavirus extremely dangerous for them. While we often think of osteogenesis imperfecta as primarily related to bones, it is actually a collagen disorder and therefore affects every system of the body. The OI Foundation reports that, “Respiratory complications are a leading cause of death for children and adults who have OI.” The coronavirus could be devastating for FangFang. Additionally and probably even more concerning, last year Matt was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease. His lung function is already so compromised that the prospect of him also facing a virus that attacks the lungs is terrifying. Most people who contract the coronavirus will be fine; would Matt and FangFang? It is less clear.

So what are we doing?

We are staying home. We are practicing extreme social distancing. We are canceling everything. I went grocery shopping on Saturday morning, and that will be our last grocery shopping trip for weeks, at minimum. We are not running errands. Mizzou has transitioned all in-person courses to be taught online, so Matt is able to teach from home. If he has to go in to campus for meetings or any other reason, he will, but he will do all he can from home. We are not attending church worship gatherings. Our kids are staying home from their homeschool enrichment group. Swim practice has been canceled through the end of March. We will not be doing horseback riding lessons. We will not go to the library or to the gym. We have canceled a spring break trip Matt was scheduled to take – unnecessary travel with thousands of other people through airports and on airplanes seems unwise at this time. We have rescheduled all non-urgent medical appointments. We are not visiting friends, and we are canceling visits from those who had planned to come to our home.

Would you consider doing the same? Will you help to flatten the curve? Will you do your part in reducing the risk to vulnerable populations, like the elderly – and like Matt and FangFang? Will you do what you can to protect our health care system and medical professionals? Some people cannot stay home – but if you can, would you please do so?

Maybe it will seem like an overreaction. But what if it doesn’t? What if we are facing an unprecedented pandemic? What if you could save lives with your decisions, by simply staying at home with your family? Would you do that?