Love God and Health-Care Workers by Taking COVID-19 Seriously

by John Ellis

During a dispute between the Sadducees and Jesus, a dispute in which “[Jesus] answered them well”, a scribe posited one final question, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Recorded in Mark 12:29-31, Jesus’ answer ranks among the most popular Bible verses. No doubt there isn’t a soul reading this who can’t quote along with, “The most important is, ‘Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one. And you shall love the Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” During 2020, and into 2021, a specific application calls for a minor edit that says, “You shall love health-care workers.” Applying it a little more broadly, friends and family counting on elective surgeries in the next few months should be included, too.

Every day the headlines become more dire. The spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is exponential in almost every state. Positive rates are climbing rapidly. Hospitals are filling up with the sick, and morgues are unable to keep pace with the dead. And, yet, even with warnings from Dr. Fauci, the CDC, and a host of infectious disease experts, it seems that much of the country is intent on resuming life as it was before the pandemic. Whether out of pandemic fatigue, exhilaration over the good news of effective vaccines, a sense of entitlement, or just plain old dismissal of the severity of the pandemic, Americans are demonstrating a stunning lack of concern for others – specifically, for the purpose of this article, a lack of concern for health-care workers.

A masterful writer who has been one of the leading voices in the media’s coverage of the pandemic, Ed Yong published his latest well-researched and beautifully written article last week. Titled “Hospitals Know What’s Coming”, the article is a dire warning among warnings about how this country’s healthcare system and the healthcare workers are being driven off a cliff by Americans with their head in the sand.

Profiling University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, a hospital that ranks at the top of the list of hospitals set up for pandemics and “handling dangerous and unusual diseases”, Yong details how the hospital is already beginning to crack under the growing pressure of steadily increasing stream of COVID patients. Having written a long-form piece about the hospital two years ago, Yong sees the worry and strain beginning to crack a hospital that “perhaps … was better prepared for a pandemic” than any other hospital in the country as particularly worrisome. And Yong has been serving as a canary in the goldmine about the toll the pandemic is taking on hospitals and healthcare workers since early in the pandemic. Of late, while his warning cries have been growing louder, the din of Americans resuming their pre-pandemic activities are apparently drowning those warnings out. Here’s hoping that none of those ignoring the warnings will be in need of hospitalization in December. As Yong writes, “Throughout the pandemic, hospitalizations have lagged behind cases by about 12 days.”

Think through that. First, though, do a quick google search about how the pandemic is currently affecting hospitals. If you were previously unaware, hospital systems around the country are at capacity. Doctors and nurses are quitting under the stress and out of fear for their own well-being. In many places, especially in rural hospitals, PPE is still being rationed. Patients are dying in hallways. Other patients, struggling to breath, are being airlifted to hospitals in other states, in search of an empty bed and available medical care; even if a bed is available, that doesn’t mean doctors and nurses are (a sentiment I’ve seen expressed multiple times by doctors and nurses is, “if all that’s needed is a bed, we could simply house patients in hotels”). Morgues are overflowing, to the point where the bodies of someone’s loved ones are being housed in refrigerated trucks. Because of HIPAA regulations, the horrors aren’t being strewn across our TV screens. Instead, sanitized images with blurred faces accompany the short segments competing for airtime on local news with segments intended to help revive the community’s lagging economy. Dead people make for bad consumers, though. As does a crumbling health care system and infrastructure.

The point? The reason I asked you to think it through: If hospitals are already suffering under the strain, what do you think is going to happen in a couple of weeks when the record-breaking number of cases from last week (and, undoubtedly, the coming weeks) begins to translate into patients needing hospitalization?

Early in November, Ed Yong wrote another piece titled “No One Is Listening to Us.” In that article, Yong gives voice to the healthcare workers who are pleading with their fellow Americans to take this pandemic seriously. Read this prophetic warning from Yong:

“In the imminent future, patients will start to die because there simply aren’t enough people to care for them. Doctors and nurse will burn out. The most precious resource the U.S. health-care system has in the struggle against COVID-19 isn’t some miracle drug. It’s the expertise of health-care workers – and they are exhausted.”

That future has arrived.

Out of love for doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals, love that Jesus commanded all of us to have and do, wear a mask, practice social distancing, and avoid large gatherings, including family gatherings over the holidays. As Professor and Chair of Global Public Health for Edinburgh University’s Medical School Devi Sridhar alluded to her in tweet embedded below, the end is in sight. Conquer your desire for immediate gratification and be willing to forgo some luxuries and enjoyments in the short term for the sake of health-care workers.

Some, though, have chosen to believe the lie that doctors and nurses are making up the severity of this pandemic. Every time a medical professional uses a moment of spare time to create a cute video intended to inform the public about the need to take COVID-19 seriously, people use it as evidence that they’re lying. “If things are so bad, how’d they find to time to choregraph and record that dance?” is the accusation. Any amount of time spent thinking about someone other than themselves would reveal the cruel slander in that sentiment.

Doctors and nurses aren’t lying. Hospitals are not fudging numbers for money (you can read more about that by clicking here). What’s more, if you don’t personally know any health-care workers and are having a hard time ginning up empathy for them, think of those you know who may be counting on elective surgeries in the coming months. How are they going to have those surgeries if hospitals are full and health-care workers are in short supply? They won’t, is the correct answer. Now think about what’s going to happen if you need surgery. Say you slip on a patch of ice and break an arm or a leg in the fall. Good luck navigating the long line of dying people in front of you in the emergency room. Cancer surgeries will be delayed. Treatments will be pushed aside in favor of the people dying of COVID in the hallways of hospitals. COVID-19 overwhelming hospitals has far-reaching ramifications that will carry a steep cost well into the future.    

As Americans, we are accustomed to luxuries and self-indulgences on whatever timeframe we decide. Past generations – think WWII, for example – by and large, buckled down, denied themselves, and did what was necessary in the service of others and the broader community. Sadly, future historians will tell a different tale about Americans who lived through the pandemic of 2020.

The pandemic’s finish line is in sight. While risk cannot be mitigated to zero, it can be drastically lowered. In doing so, lives will be saved as will be the well-being of health-care workers, not to mention the stability of our healthcare system as a whole. If not for yourself, take precautions out of love for doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals. One day, you will stand before Jesus. And on that Day, your “rights” to enjoy luxuries and large gatherings will be revealed as poor excuses for why you failed to love your neighbors, specifically those neighbors laboring in hospitals in service to others.

Soli Deo Gloria

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