Donald McNeil is the New York Times science and health reporter focusing on plagues. He has “become a household name for many over the past several months” due to his early and consistent reporting on the coronavirus pandemic. His article this week in the Times, titled “A Dose of Optimism, as the Pandemic Rages On,” has therefore drawn significant attention.
McNeil reports that “non-pharmaceutical interventions” such as mask-wearing and social distancing have “made a huge difference in lives saved.” Now he focuses on pharmaceutical interventions such as vaccines and monoclonal antibodies. On this front, he has become “cautiously optimistic,” citing experts who “are saying, with genuine confidence, that the pandemic in the United States will be over far sooner than they expected, possibly by the middle of next year.”
We have already fared far better than we did during the Spanish influenza, the pandemic to which this one is often compared. It cost 675,000 lives in a country of 103 million, a toll equivalent to two million dead today.
In addition, the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere was almost nonexistent this year because of social distancing and mask-wearing. As a result, if Americans get their flu shots, we can hope to avoid a “twindemic” of coronavirus and influenza. Monoclonal antibodies such as the regimen given to President Trump are making progress, and the FDA is likely to begin approval of vaccines sometime in the next three months.
Such progress is expected to catalyze markets and jumpstart the global economy.
The first person in the US to contract coronavirus twice
This is very good news, coming at a time when we need such pandemic-related hope.
A twenty-five-year-old man in Nevada with no history of significant underlying conditions has become the first confirmed US patient to become reinfected with COVID-19. He has now recovered, though his second case was more severe, requiring hospitalization. In related news, an eighty-nine-year-old Dutch woman is the first confirmed case of a person dying from a COVID-19 reinfection.
Johnson & Johnson has paused its COVID-19 vaccine study due to an unexplained illness in a study participant. A clinical trial testing an antibody treatment by the drug company Eli Lilly has also been paused because of a “potential safety concern.” Such delays, however, are not unusual in large clinical studies.
As predicted, the US is now grappling with a fall COVID-19 surge. As a result, experts are warning that a second wave of mental health devastation due to the pandemic is imminent. And the virus is now known to survive for twenty-eight days on phone screens, cash, and stainless steel surfaces.
Hope “sings the tune without the words”
Teilhard de Chardin observed, “The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope.” Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.”
Hope in hard times, however, is advanced most powerfully by practical action.
Urban gardens are flourishing in Washington, DC, as people seek ways to counter isolation and discouragement. The “effective altruism” movement is working to align benefactors with systemic issues they can affect for good. Researchers are discovering that doing good for others may even enhance our physical attractiveness.
And a new study shows that highly spiritual people are more likely to contribute to the greater good. This is good news, since 86 percent of Americans identify as spiritual to some extent. The more a person identifies as spiritual, the more likely they are to vote, speak out on social and political issues, and get involved in politics and social movements.
There’s a key to such practical spirituality, however. Nancy Ammerman, professor of sociology emerita at Boston University and a reviewer for the study, notes that 70 percent of Americans consider themselves both spiritual and religious. Only 16 percent said they were only spiritual. She concludes that “sitting behind that spirituality is the participation in religious communities that strengthens and sustains the spirituality.”
An empowering daily prayer
To summarize: we need hope in hard times; such hope is powerfully advanced through practical spirituality; and such spirituality is best grounded in religious community. Where, then, should we ground such community?
The presidential election is in less than three weeks. Here’s what is not on the ballot: the Lord “is exalted over all the peoples” (Psalm 99:2, my emphasis). This is true whether the “peoples” know this or not.
Donald Trump is currently the president of all Americans, including his critics, whether they support him or not. It was the same with President Obama before him, and President Bush before him, and President Clinton before him.
The key is for us to acknowledge our Father’s sovereignty by our daily commitment to his lordship. To this end, I recently discovered a morning prayer in John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer that I have found empowering. I encourage you to pray these words with me now:
Dear Father, take this day’s life into your keeping. Guide all my thoughts and feelings. Direct all my energies. Instruct my mind. Sustain my will. Take my hands and give me the skill to serve you. Take my feet and make them quick to do whatever you ask. Take my eyes and keep them fixed on your everlasting beauty. Take my mouth and give me the words to tell others of your love.
Make this day a day of obedience, a day of spiritual joy and peace. Make this day’s work a little part of the work of the kingdom of my Lord Jesus, in whose name these prayers are said.