This is one time that we wish the topic of this column were obsolete before you get a chance to read it.
The topic is the coronavirus outbreak that has gripped the world’s attention these last few weeks, upending our daily routines, our travel habits and stock markets around the globe. As fear of contagion spreads and infection levels rise, we avoid hugs, handshakes and large crowds while we hope to keep the virus at bay with frequent hand washing and hibernating at home.
Such cautionary measures are prudent, and will undoubtedly alleviate the crisis somewhat. We hope we won’t have to endure the lockdowns and other severe measures ordered in hard-hit countries like China and Italy. Even in Ireland, where the outbreak is not as severe, St. Patrick’s Day parades were canceled in Dublin, Cork and other cities.
In the United States, which came relatively late to the epidemic, we don’t know how far the virus and the flu-like disease it causes, Covid-19, will spread and whether the onset of warm weather will slow it down.
We do know, however, that medical researchers around the world are working hard on developing a vaccine and they’re confident they’ll have one in a year or so.
In the meantime, we should try to relax, stay home from school or work when sick and follow the advice of medical experts on the front lines.
Pope Francis, always a good model to emulate, took seriously his responsibility as a global spiritual leader this past weekend. To discourage the large crowds that gather in St. Peter’s Square to hear his traditional Sunday Angelus delivered from a balcony, Francis instead chose for the first time in his papacy to stream his message on the internet where a sparse crowd of onlookers watched on a large TV monitor.
“I am close in prayer to people who are suffering because of the current coronavirus epidemic as well as to all those who are taking care of them,” the pope said Sunday.
In New York, facing a cluster of cases in Westchester and elsewhere, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been relentless in pressing the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more testing equipment and sites to better monitor the virus’s progress, and he announced that the state will start manufacturing hand sanitizer to combat price gouging and hoarding.
New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, encouraged people to walk or bike to work if possible to avoid crowds in the subway or, better yet, to work from home.
In the archdiocese, Fordham University and Iona College are among numerous metro area schools that have suspended classes. Michael J. Deegan, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, pledged weekly updates to parents with information from health authorities as it relates to Catholic schools.
He also reminded parents of a policy implemented Feb. 28 that any student or staff member that has traveled internationally must receive a doctor’s clearance before being allowed to return to school. The same policy applies to students, staff and volunteers in the catechetical and youth ministry programs in the archdiocese.
There’s a lot for all of us to process as this situation unfolds, ranging from concerns about our own health and that of our loved ones to the ability of our health care system to handle it to the volatile economic fallout.
In this environment, we want to urge Catholics not to fall prey to unnecessary fear and dread and to calmly and safely go on with their lives.
We agree with Pope Francis, who encouraged his listeners on Sunday “to live this difficult moment with the strength of faith, the certainty of hope and the fervor of charity.”