COVID-19 Ramblings and Reflections
April 9, 2020
by Robert E. Cranston, MD, MA (Ethics)
The world is caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic. This virus has changed our lives, and it will continue to change the lives of people all over the world for years to come. Schools, churches, businesses, restaurants, sporting events and entire countries are closed or are placed under lockdown. Shelter-in-place, an old term, unknown to most, is now widely used, and it affects, by some estimates, more than half the country. At any hour of the day or night, one can find the most up-to-date tallies for morbidity and mortality in the U.S. and around the world. This led me to three observations.
1. Truth is not the same as data. As a graduate student, my statistics professor told us that, for a price, he could make the results of any study say exactly what the authors wished to say. He also said there are liars, prolific liars (though that wasn’t the adjective he used), and then there are statisticians. It is hard to get a handle on truth these days. The results of individual polls seldom disclose what the questions actually were, to which group they were actually presented, what conflicts of interests were at play and which results are not being reported. The slant given and interpretation of current morbidity, mortality data and statements of cause and effect in public health decisions is often questionable.
Walter Cronkite used to conclude his CBS newscast with the famous line, “And that’s the way it is…” (followed by the date), and many of those listening took Mr. Cronkite at his word. As the anchor of the CBS Evening News for 19 years, he was esteemed as authoritative, fair and objective. In a post-retirement interview, however, he acknowledged the irony of his signature sign-off, but he said that after the first time he announced it, it was received so well by his listeners that he couldn’t let it go.
Today’s journalists, whose abilities to spin facts in any direction, perpetuate an ongoing incivility in society, pitting the rich against the poor, the right against the left, race against race. If you watch news coverage from pundits at one end of the political continuum, and then hear the story from the spectrum’s other end, it is hard to believe they are covering the same events. Our information sources and the uncertainties they propagate foster continued partisan animosity—an increasingly divisive problem in today’s world. Truth is hard to come by, and we suffer for its absence.
2. Loneliness is rampant in our society. It is one of the leading causes of suicide in America and, more recently, teen suicide with the widespread use of social media. Secure-in-place amplifies this, especially with the elderly who, in particular, should adhere to this directive to protect themselves and others. Though it hasn’t been reported yet, I fear that as all the data are subsequently reviewed, we will discover that many lonely people were driven to depression, despair and even suicide by this strict social distancing.
Nursing homes restrict all visitors, and church, work and school closures prevent our routine forms of socializing. We have to make special efforts to connect with our isolated friends and loved ones.
Enforced isolation with an abusive partner is also an extreme form of loneliness, and it has led to a sharp uptick in reported domestic violence in China that will likely be seen throughout the world. Victims usually seek help when they are apart from their abuser. Under COVID-19, violent perpetrators and their human targets are in enforced, continued and close contact for what will likely be months.
3. Hard times reveal character, but they don’t create it. During these hard times, the heroism of our healthcare professionals, grocery clerks, police officers, sanitary engineers and gas station attendants, among others, is evidenced. Many of these people chose their professions specifically to make the lives of others better. Some may have been thrown into this danger through no conscious choice of their own, but they have, nevertheless, remained faithful to society by their decisions to stay at work, making it possible for the majority of us to shelter in our places.
Unfortunately, we have also seen some devious and selfish behavior related to the virus. Hoarding of essentials, including toilet tissue, eggs, meat and other food commodities, has become a fact of life in many of our cities. In the town where I live, not only was the toilet tissue stripped from store shelves, but Kleenex, paper towels and baby wipes were bought out as well. One woman reportedly went to her local grocery store and attempted to buy $3,000 worth of meat. Fortunately for her community, her request was denied.
Internet scams have sprung up during this emergency. Some are phishing emails; others are variations on old schemes—one threatens to infect family members of the email recipient with COVID-19 if he or she does not pay a ransom. Fraudulent charity sites, loan sites and even fake online dating sites are evolving. One new ploy is the offer of full-coverage COVID-19 health insurance by non-existent companies. Seasoned fraudsters reacting to new opportunities and the newly impoverished have both perpetrated these scams on desperate, unsuspecting people. Stories of deceit, human despair, integrity, betrayal, heroism, and greed—some of the all-time themes of art and literature, each as old as Adam, are daily news.
So, what is our response? COVID-19 may lead some to selfishness, anger and extreme anxiety, but we don’t need to feel or behave like this. Love of God, and love of neighbor, as always, should dictate our behavior (Luke 10:27). As we attend to these timeless commands, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can:
Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Pray for those who mistreat us (Luke 6:28, Matthew 5:44).
Be honest in all our dealings (Matthew 5:37).
Share with those in need (Matthew 5:42, 6:2-4).
Pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Be anxious for nothing (Matthew 6:25-34).
Let’s trust in God’s wisdom, guidance and peace as we face the cataclysmic times ahead.
About Robert E. Cranston, MD, MA (Ethics)
Robert E. Cranston, MD, MA (Ethics), MSHA, FAAN, CPE, is a board certified neurologist, with additional training and experience in palliative medicine, executive coaching and medical leadership. He currently serves at Carle Foundation Hospital, in Urbana, Illinois, as an attending neurologist, Medical Director for Talent Development and Learning and (Past Chair—14 years) of the Carle Ethics Committee. He is a clinical associate professor of medicine (neurology) at University of Illinois College of Medicine, Urbana-Champaign and Carle Illinois College of Medicine, and he is a member of the CMDA Ethics Committee.