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Coronavirus Pandemic - Friday, March 13, 2020
2020 has shaped up to be quite an eventful year. It seems like the coronavirus outbreak (a.k.a. COVID-19) is what's on everyone's mind these days. State and local governments and companies have taken drastic steps to limit transmission of the virus. This week alone, the outbreak was declared a pandemic by WHO, the NBA has suspended the basketball season, the three major US stock indexes touched into bear market territory, California governor Gavin Newsom banned gatherings of 250 people or more, President Trump imposed a 30-day travel ban for flights from Europe, and, just today, Santa Clara County closed all public schools for 3 weeks as Trump declared a national emergency.

Many tech companies have required their employees to work from home, and while Pure has made it optional, my manager mandated that our team work from home until further notice starting next week. My commute to work this week has been great; I guess it's going to get even better now. It's difficult for people at Priscilla's company to work from home due to the nature of their work, but it sounds like the company is seeing what can be done.

At church, youth ministry and Sunday School were cancelled. Yesterday the pastors decided that we'd continue having worship service while advising people to stay more than an arm's length from each other, but today they sent another email announcing that worship service will now only be available via streaming after the Santa Clara County Public Health Department issued a legal prohibition against gatherings of more than 100 people. It's amazing and frightening how many new developments there have been in just a few day's time.

On a societal level, frequent hand washing and social distancing has suddenly become the norm. And stockpiling seems to be increasing, with Costco and other stores quickly running out of toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, water and some food. There's especially been an insane level of toilet paper buying. Once some people started panic buying, others felt forced to as well. This is how runs on supplies happen.

Though some supplies are running out at some stores daily, so far we haven't seen real scarcity. But there have already been some reports of isolated instances of violence over things like toilet paper. I shudder to imagine how society might unravel if scarcity and joblessness increase. Businesses in industries including travel, food and retail are losing money, which affects how many people they can afford to hire. What's going on isn't economically sustainable, and it seems like a recession is all but inevitable at this point. Our renter's internship at a school is threatened by today's school closures, and she also just lost her waitressing job at a restaurant that has closed indefinitely. What will be the ripple effects of many people losing their jobs? It feels like we're teetering towards the end of the world, but I have to remember that many people/places have it much worse.

In my lifetime I have not seen a global response as strong as what is happening now. So far there have been 145,810 cases of the virus worldwide, with 5,436 deaths and 72,531 people recovered. In the US it's been 2,466 cases, 50 deaths and 41 recovered. The amount of tracking, the amount of up-to-the-minute updates on this pandemic is of a scale not seen before. Information spreads faster than ever, and perhaps that's a large reason why the response has been so dramatic. To put things in perspective, it's estimated that the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic saw 700 million-1.4 billion people infected, with 150,000-575,00 deaths. However, swine flu had a mortality rate of 0.02%, while WHO has estimated the coronavirus mortality rate at 3.4%, topping out at 14.8% for adults 80 and older. And since a viable vaccine could be many months away, I can understand why governments want to severely limit the spread of the virus. We don't want hospitals overwhelmed with critical cases like what's happening in Italy, we want to protect those who are most vulnerable, and we want to give researchers more time to develop a vaccine.

As Christians, our hope must be in God, not in the flawed institutions of this world. I know this, but living it out is hard. I still feel hopeless when my stock portfolio drops by another 7%, when I read about the permanent effects that the virus can have on the body, and when I think about how society could be on an unchangeable course headed towards major systemic problems. But as an article from The Gospel Coalition reminds us, "it takes the same amount of energy to worry as to pray. One leads to peace, the other to panic. Choose wisely."
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