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Premier Christianity columnist Lois Tverberg says a calm, clear analysis of the data proves the importance of social distancing
“Whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)
This classic rabbinic line describes the fact that human life is greatly precious in the eyes of God. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Luke 6:9), he preached a similar idea that is well-known in Judaism — if a human life is in danger, almost all laws could be set aside for the reason of pikuach nephesh — to “save life.”
With this in mind, I feel it’s imperative to talk to you about the COVID-19 situation, because it is a life or death issue right now. If you only know my writing on Jesus’ Jewish context, you might not be aware that my PhD is actually in biology. The skill I use in both careers is to dig into the primary data. I was originally trained to do this in the world of biology, but now I do this with the Bible and ancient texts.
I’m writing this because I am concerned for Christians who are worn out by all the shouting headlines and feel like everything is over-hyped. The panic on social media makes them think people are losing their minds. The doomsday talk about COVID-19 doesn’t make sense to them, because it seems like a just a bad flu. People die of the flu every day! What is the big deal?
What the data says
What I wanted to do is to take a calm look at some data together with you, without any crazy headlines or political spin. I want to show you some basic details about what is going on. I’m not trying to sell you anything or change how you vote. My goal is for you to just see the situation for yourself.
Let’s look what’s going on with COVID-19 where I live in Michigan this past week.
Last Tuesday, March 10th, we had our first COVID-19 case diagnosed. Two days later, March 12th, we had 12 cases. As I write this on March 17th we have 45 cases.
This doesn’t seem like much, in light of hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from seasonal flu. Why all the concern? It’s because the trend in Michigan is the same as the rest of the world, where the number of cases is doubling every 3-4 days. See the image below from this data site.
This is what is called an exponential increase. That means that the numbers start off very small but then compound over time, so that later the rate of increase grows enormous. This is happening because the Coronavirus is new and no one in the world is immune. Cases are growing exponentially and mostly unchecked.
If we have 45 cases in Michigan right now, what will happen in the future? Let’s estimate from the data from other places. To do this I’ve found data at the World Health Organization website. You can download the report I used here.
- On March 1, the UK had 36 cases. As I write this the UK now has 1,500.
- On March 1, Germany had 130. Now they have 7,974
- On March 1, Spain had 84 cases. Now they have 9,190
So, within a couple weeks, we can be pretty much guess that Michigan will have at least 1,000 cases, because this is what is happening everywhere else. What about two weeks after that? Let’s keep looking at the numbers.
- On March 1, Iran had 978 cases. Now they have 14,991.
- On March 1, Italy had 1,694 cases. Now they have 27,980. Their health care system is in crisis and they cannot treat all the dying right now.
Looking at these trends, Michigan could have 13,000 cases within a month. This is just a guestimate from reading the data, and I’m not an epidemiologist. But please note that I’m also not exaggerating or trying to mislead you, I’m just pointing out what the trends in the numbers look like. The exponential growth is what is important, and I don’t think this is communicated very well by many sources.
What’s happening is that each country initially has just a few people infected and thinks its no big deal. But within weeks they have thousands of very sick people and hospitals are overwhelmed.
I hope you get my overall point — that while you hear a lot of breathlessly over-hyped reports in the news, the COVID-19 pandemic is a terribly serious situation that is growing worse by the day. I hope you are praying often about this.
The exponential curve
Why am I writing about this topic instead of sticking to Jesus’ first century context like I normally would? For two reasons. First, because to save a life is to save a world. I can’t just sit on the sidelines and let people be misled by headlines and social media posts which aren't accurate. I feel like am serving Christ by showing you what’s going on.
Second, there is a way to decrease the loss of life, and it involves you. If we can lower the overall spread of infection, (“flatten the curve") by being extremely careful about spreading germs, hospitals will have longer to respond and not be overwhelmed by patients. People will receive better care, and, Lord willing, given some months time, new medications and even a vaccine can be developed.
The key is that on an exponential curve, tiny changes early on make an enormous difference later. It is critical to get as many people as possible to change their behavior and do it quickly — to practice social distancing and not spread germs. Time is of the essence to change people’s behavior. That’s why governments all over the world are taking drastic steps that seem to be overreaching.
Because people don’t understand this, they are not changing their behavior, so the numbers are still increasing rapidly in many places. Every person who catches it infects more and more people, which drives the numbers up exponentially.
What to do today
Today is the day you can love your neighbor with every action you take. You don’t need to panic and go out and buy toilet paper - that’s foolish and useless. But stop spreading germs!
There is actually one more thing you can do that is even more urgent. You need to persuade your friends who see COVID-19 as a political stunt or as media over-hype that the situation is indeed serious. Don’t yell at them, just show them the numbers. Get them to realise they need to change their behavior as quickly as possible. Do this today!
And of course do not panic, but pray diligently. May the LORD have mercy on us all.
Lois Tverberg has been speaking and writing about the Jewish background of Christianity for the past 20 years. A former biology professor, she is the best selling author of a number of books. Her blog, where this article first appeared is available at ourrabbijesus.com
Lois is also regular columnist in Premier Christianity magazine. Subscribe to the magazine now for only £4.95/month
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