To read more from Jeff, visit his blog: Mormanity.
Good Friday was a time of much reflection on the state of the world and our country, filled with cause for sorrow and also cause for hope and rejoicing. The greatest hope of all comes from Jesus Christ. In this world of death and decay, death, of course, is inescapable. It can be delayed, perhaps, but never escaped, no matter how long we are forced to be locked up in our homes, no matter how much the government spends, and no matter how many vaccinations you get. But the shadow of that grim reality is swept away in light of the glorious news, attested by eye-witnesses in two hemispheres, that Jesus Christ lives and has unlocked the gates of death and hell. The sting of death is swallowed up in victory. His Resurrection is the greatest victory of all time and of all eternity.
It’s painfully easy for people to disregard the New Testament accounts of multiple witnesses of Christ’s Resurrection: “The Bible has through so many hands, copies of copies of copies. We don’t have the original documents. What did they say? And even if we did, perhaps Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, if they were even the authors of the manuscripts bearing their names, just repeated rumors someone else concocted or did fabricated their stories. Who knows?” The Bible stands as a witness of Jesus Christ and contains the accounts of multiple human witnesses of His reality and triumph, but it’s far too easy to disregard that ancient account.
Here is where we, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have something marvelous for the world, an independent and majestic second witness, another testament of Jesus Christ that was brought to the world through miraculous means, for which numerous evidences continue to mount that demand attention. The Book of Mormon is that additional testament of Christ. No other book I’ve ever seen is so centered on Christ and does so much to clarify the majesty of His mission, the reality of His Resurrection, and the power of His Atonement. Shout it from the housetops: we have a record, an ancient record brought forth by miraculous means, filled with evidence for and truth about the Savior of the world. In this time of pain and sorrow, it has a message the world desperately needs. The Book of Mormon is true and confirms what the world needs to know today: Jesus Christ lives and has power not only to rescue us from death, but to cleanse us from sin and to bring us back into the presence of God and the Lamb of God, the Son of God who lived and died for us.
That’s the key good news we should focus on. Christ is our most real and vital source of hope in times of despair and throughout all the seasons of our lives. But in much less important areas that still matter greatly to many of us, there may be more rays of hope in this time of crisis.
Good Friday was a day of fasting and prayer for millions of members of the Church and many others, as we sought the Lord’s help and guidance in this trouble time. We need miracles. We need added hope. I have been praying that there might be advances in our knowledge so that we can better cope with the virus without causing far more harm, without further crushing the economy, without adding terrible burdens to those who are already ill or suffering from mental health challenges, without impoverishing our nation and others, and without allowing thieves to steal our future or diminish our liberty.
While there has been much bad news recently, some surprising good news has come forth during this time of fasting and prayer that may give us some hope. Here are some examples:
1. Iceland Gives Us Hope
So much of what has been done to cope with the Coronavirus has been done without consideration of available data. Granted, early on, very little data was available and what was coming from China wasn’t always clear or timely, and yes, there’s still much we don’t know. To cope with the virus, we need to know how lethal it is. What is the real infection fatality rate (IFR), the number of deaths divided by the number of infected people? We often hear reports on CFR, the number of deaths per reported cases, but those numbers can be misleading. When a new virus comes, the only cases known are the real serious ones that go to the hospital, resulting in frightening CFR statistics that tend to decline steadily. But what really matters is the IFR. Understanding IFR requires thorough testing, and nobody is doing more extensive testing than little Iceland. To me, the data from Iceland gives us hope. Here’s an excerpt from the Oxford COVID-19 Evidence Service and their report, “Global Covid-19 Case Fatality Rates,” updated April 7:
Iceland has tested a higher proportion of people than any other country (9,768 individuals), equivalent to 26,762 per million inhabitants the highest in the world (as a comparison, South Korea has tested 6,343 individuals).
Screening suggests 0.5% are infected; the correct figure is likely higher due to asymptomatics and many not seeking testing: estimates suggest the real number infected is 1%.
Iceland, currently reports two deaths in 963 patients, CFR . 0.21%. If 1% of the population (364,000) is infected, then the corresponding IFR would be 0.05%. However, they have limited infections in the elderly as their test and quarantine measures have seemingly shielded this group, and the deaths will lag by about two weeks after the infection.
Iceland’s higher rates of testing, the smaller population, and their ability to ascertain all those with Sars-CoV-2 means they can obtain. an accurate estimate of the CFR and the IFR during the pandemic (most countries will only be able to do this after the pandemic). Current data from Iceland suggests their IFR is somewhere between 0.01% and 0.19%.
Thank you, Iceland, for extensive testing! (I wish the US had not messed up so bad in the testing area, a factor that has been a key contributor to our problematic state.) Your data helps us better understand the true enemy that we are waging war against. Maybe we can fight this war without fire bombing the entire nation.
Iceland, though, may have shielded the most vulnerable (the elderly) effectively from the disease, keeping the IFR low. But taking into account data from all over the globe, not just Iceland, the Oxford report (“Global Covid-19 Case Fatality Rates“) gives this overall estimate:
Taking account of historical experience, trends in the data, increased number of infections in the population at largest, and potential impact of misclassification of deaths gives a presumed estimate for the COVID-19 IFR between 0.1% and 0.39%. [emphasis added
If the IFR for the US will be as low as Iceland reports or is in a higher range between 0.1% and 0.39%, is that rate so terrible, so unlike influenza or other diseases, that we really need to shut down the economy, require government approval to travel and work, and give unlimited power to bankers to create trillions of new dollars via digital creation ex nihilo (without even the courtesy of at least printing their counterfeit money so that ATMs won’t run out of bills when banks begin to fail)? Maybe panic is not the correct response. Maybe Iceland and good global data can help us get back to normal (and can we have our future and our freedom back, please? or at least the trillions the Fed is taking?).
The Oxford report also notes that we still have not adequately distinguished between dying with the virus versus dying from it. Many elderly people who die and are reported as COVID-19 deaths may have had the virus but died from other factors such as diabetes or heart disease, with the virus just being one of several new problems. Once we understand that differences, they note that the IFR may be even lower.
Other countries also give us hope. How about Sweden and Brazil? Both have been criticized for their failure to follow social distancing and to lock down their economies. Have they invited chaos? It doesn’t look that way so far. They seem to have done remarkably well. Some say Sweden’s success comes from a compliant population who are following sound social distancing rules, but I don’t know if that explains Brazil. Sweden and Brazil give us hope and might give us courage to ask if the US lockdown is really the source for the success we’ve had, relative to the gloomy forecasts of models (discussed below).
Right next to China is Vietnam which, as of a few days ago, had zero deaths. Lots of Chinese tourists go there. I saw many while I was there in January. Quickly closing their borders may have been their key to success. The virus may eventually spread, but so far they have done well. Some have speculated that other factors there such as climate or diet might have helped. In any case, I think we need to be looking more closely at Vietnam, at Taiwan, and other nations that are coping effectively with the disease and have not needed to intubate their economy.
2. California Gives us Hope
I usually don’t say that about California, but look at the amazing numbers. Their 541 deaths, while a cause for morning, is less than 10% of what New York has. Their population is 2/3 that of Italy (40 vs 60 million), but Italy is reporting over 19,000 deaths. OK, it may be that nearly 90% of Italy’s deaths should not be classified as strictly due to the virus, but even if the real count in Italy is 2000 or so, California’s numbers are still amazingly good in comparison. Experts with their brilliant, unbiased models were predicting tens of thousands of deaths for California and utter chaos as it would surely become the epicenter of viral chaos. California should be the epicenter because no other state has had such close contact with Wuhan before we knew what was happening. There have long been direct fights from Wuhan to California and just about every Chinese tourist going to North America wants to go to California. They will also go to New York, but California is the focal point based on what I see among my Chinese acquaintances. And no matter where you are going in the US, if you travel from China, you are likely to first fly to LA or San Francisco and then transfer (but there are direct flights to several other cities).
So why is California so lucky? Well, they had an unusually severe and unusually early flu season in late 2019 which may have actually been due to the Coronavirus, and now we are seeing the benefits of some degree of herd immunity in California. See Victor Davis Hanson’s article, “Coronavirus: The California Herd.” It’s an amazing story that needs more investigation but may give us hope. The great numbers from California may mean that their close contact with China gave them a head start in building herd immunity — without having to shut down their economy and without having to force people to stop having funerals, weddings, parties, and religious gatherings until a perfect vaccine can be developed, perhaps once the virus stops mutating). Yes, it was a rough flu season and hospitals then were overwhelmed, but they got through it. If they did, maybe the rest of us can, too. That’s a cause for hope.
However, Hanson’s hypothesis may be wrong and California may not have a real head start on herd immunity after all, as some are arguing in response (see a discussion of the issues at SFist.com).
But even if California did get hit with the virus earlier than we thought, don’t let that give you too much hope. In fact, the same basic information (once stripped of the actual numbers) can be properly spun in a way that supports the normal narrative in this way: “Yikes, the virus was here in California even earlier than we thought, and that means it’s had more time to spread — so we’re really doomed!” In The Los Angeles Times, the April 11 article, “New signs suggest coronavirus was in California far earlier than anyone knew,” shows us the politically correct approach. The story begins and ends with tragic stories of death and tells us that the lag time between the early arrival of the virus to California in 2019 and the social distancing rule in 2020 “has had dire consequences, allowing the virus to spread unchecked before social distancing rules went into effect.” But it would be great if there is some herd immunity in California, and hopefully we’ll know for sure soon.
Based on the history of failure and delays with vaccines for new viruses, perhaps herd immunity (getting back to normal life with good hygiene but not panic while encouraging sheltering for the more vulnerable), not mandatory vaccinations and lengthy lockdowns is the real hope for us. AIDS has killed about 700,000 people in the US, more than are likely to die from the Coronavirus. How’s that HIV vaccine working for you? Oh, right, there still isn’t one. Scientists have been working to develop one for years, or rather, decades, but there still isn’t one, as HIV.gov reports. We are approaching the 40th anniversary of the official recognition of the AIDS epidemic (June 15, 1981). Thank goodness we didn’t have politicians lock down the economy then until a successful vaccine could be developed and mandated.
3. Consistently Failed Predictions and Inflated Numbers Give Us Hope
I usually don’t say this about failed software or the many massive failures from bad or biased computer models, which have driven much of the panic over the Coronavirus. But these persistent failures now give me hope. Bill Gates’ IHME model, relied on so heavily by our government, has, like all the other “professional” models being touted in the media, been grossly wrong on many things. New York should have run out of hospital beds by now, but they did not. The models have been highly inaccurate, but have been used to stir up fear and were trusted to make sweeping policy decisions that could affect us for years to come. They have been unreliable, but that’s good news. Maybe we don’t need to panic or to trust those stirring the panic.
When a trusted government icon like Dr. Anthony Fauci tells us that we should never shake hands again, that it might be a good idea for the government to require us to carry papers to justify our travel in the future, that we may need to stay in lockdown mode for 18 months or so, etc., etc., it’s OK for us to not blindly trust what he or any other acclaimed expert says, Bill Gates included. In fact, when he claims that the great decline in actual numbers versus predicted number is because Americans have complied with his edicts, it’s OK for us to ask questions, like what is the evidence that the edicts actually created the unexpected decline? Since your models already had considered the effect of social distancing, and were still wrong, do we really understand this disease enough to attribute good news to your policies? Do you really know that the reason for the lower numbers when the collective wisdom of the models gives predictions that often aren’t even close?
What about inflated numbers? Above I mentioned the concern raised in the Oxford report about the failure to distinguish between deaths “with” the virus versus deaths “from” the virus, especially among the vulnerable group of people who are already struggling with severe issues. A large number of these deaths should not be flagged as deaths caused by the virus. Sadly, the new legislation to cope with the virus has added strong financial incentives to count deaths as coronavirus deaths, even when that’s not very accurate. See “Hospitals Get Paid More to List Patients as COVID-19 and Three Times as Much if the Patient Goes on Ventilator” at The Spectator, April 9. That’s a financial incentive that may be hard to resist and surely will exacerbate any problems in overcounting COVID-19 deaths. On top of that are whistleblower allegations that the CDC is also manipulating deaths to be excessively high. But the disconnect between the fearful models and physical reality, even with overcounted deaths, is great enough to help us see past the fearmongering, and that’s hopeful.
4. Perhaps Some Hope from Anecdotal Reports by Doctors
Some doctors have touted apparent benefits hydroxychloroquine in treating Covid-19. This medication has not been proven yet with serious double-blind studies, but such studies are underway. Instead of waiting many months or possibly years for those studies to be completed, some maverick doctors are jumping the gun and reporting apparent dramatic benefits. Yes, there are legitimate reasons to question Trump’s emphasis on this drug and reasons to think that widespread use may be a bad idea. But maybe it will help some, or perhaps many. Let’s see. Meanwhile, there are also reasons that think that it may be unwise to deny patients the right to take an experimental treatment when in a life-threatening situation. I think Katherine Timpf makes a reasonable argument on this point.
Update, 4/12/2020: As was kindly pointed out to me this morning, I should also mention zinc as one of the rays of hope from anecdotal but significant reports from multiple doctors. A fascinating video clip shows the frantic media effort to downplay the possible good news that such inexpensive materials as zinc and hydroxychloroquine might be making a significant difference for those with COVID-19. And another friend suggested I might wish to remind people of the tentative evidence or at least reasonable hypotheses that other inexpensive nutriceuticals like glucosamine and N-acetyl cysteine might be helpful as well.
5. And a Hands-free Touch of Hope from Face Masks
One of the positive developments recently has been that the US government is finally (finally!) acknowledging that masks might actually help, something that numerous studies support. There are many companies that could make plenty of masks, but sadly, government regulations make that just about impossible. While it’s now too late for most of us to buy them, partly because the government has begun seizing large orders of masks that were being shipped to US hospitals that needed them, or, in some cases, were being exported to other places that needed them, there’s still hope. Just grab and old T-shirt or bandana and you are good to go.
Fortunately, there are some good resources showing you how to make a face mask. See the “Face Mask Guidelines” document and its links at https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2020/04/face-masks.php. Special thanks to University of Utah Health who partnered with Intermountain Healthcare and Latter-day Saint Charities to create these guidelines.
Face masks, hand washing, healthy caution about crowds — these are principles that can help us cope with infections disease not just now but throughout our lives. That’s a source for hope, though I’m still disappointed that the Surgeon General told us something that wasn’t very accurate and possibly harmful. Glad we are past that and now have the government’s approval to protect ourselves a little more.
The Best News I Had on Good Friday
During my fasting for Good Friday, I received me joyous news from my wife in Shanghai. She reported that a government doctor had just visited her and gave her the government’s permission to leave her quarantine. The electronic lock on her door was now removed after two weeks of being under close scrutiny (she was allowed to open the door during 3 brief intervals each day in order to receive ordered food or to place a garbage back outside her door). At last, now she can step outside her apartment. She was even allowed to go jogging, a freedom millions of Americans may now lack or soon will lack (sorry, Chicago!). There will still be restrictions on movement, but she has an app on her phone showing a QR code that can prove she’s been given the government’s thumb of approval, after a successful quarantine apparently free of the virus, so now she can move about the city and enter one of Shanghais numerous malls, for example.
Being locked up in her apartment for two weeks was a remarkable blessing, as a matter of fact, compared to be quarantined elsewhere. Two of her friends returning to China were not so lucky. They were required to go to a government quarantine facility, a converted hotel, and to pay for two weeks of a hotel stay plus additional fees to get delivered meals. For at least one friend, that was a huge financial blow. There were other challenges. For safety, the heating was turned off so there was no air conditioning to spread germs. But it was cold, and one friend of ours in such a place had just come from warm Singapore without many warm clothes, so it was really hard. Fortunately, friends from our branch were able to bring a space heater to his facility and asked the guards to give it to him, and I understand that worked. For another friend, staying in the facility was physically challenging for other reasons. I won’t go into details because they might be perceived as just rumors, but it’s understandable that being held in any government facility in any country can be challenging and can impose difficulties that might not exist when one is free to just walk down the street and buy whatever one wishes to eat or drink, for example.
China’s system is different than ours. There is much to respect in China (their advances in innovation and strong intellectual property rights, for example, are remarkable, and I even had surgery there in a low-cost public hospital and had a remarkably positive experience), but there are also some things that we US citizens will disagree with in light of our ways, our systems, and our traditions. I have no right to tell China how to run their country, but as a US citizen in a nation with a very different system and very different history, I not only have the right but a duty to be involved here and to stand up for the US Constitution. I can and should say that under our system and with our heritage, it would be a dramatic loss of the liberties our Founding Fathers fought to secure for us if US citizens need to have government approval to leave our homes or go to work or travel anywhere, even though Dr. Fauci may favor that idea. Some other nations require their citizens to have government papers in order travel and are subject to arrest for seemingly arbitrary reasons by overly powerful police. Are we on that path? If so, it’s time for a detour. And in the war against the virus, once again, maybe it’s time we give peace (and liberty) a chance.
Here’s a fair question and a reasonable answer I just saw from Congressman Justin Amash:
I am deeply concerned about the far-reaching side-effects of the political actions being taken to cope with the virus. First, it seems like many things are being done in bad faith, almost as if some governors and mayors want the populace to be as unhappy as possible (is there algorithm something like more pain = more hate for Trump, perhaps?), or as if politicians see this as an excuse to slip all sorts of mischief and corruption into emergency bills that few have time to scrutinize or even skim carefully. Some of the steps being taken could do lasting harm, decades of harm, long after we’ve reached herd immunity to this virus.
To prevent tens of thousands of deaths mostly among us older people (I’m in a higher risk age group), the entire nation is being hurt in ways that could lead to many more deaths. The lack of exercise due to closed gyms and having to stay at home can exacerbate hypertension and heart disease, which are huge killers. The failure of millions to see doctors for routine checkups could lead to many failing to be diagnosed for cancer or other diseases where early diagnosis is critical. Some states are seeing suicides spike and outpace COVID-19 deaths. For those with mental health issues, the lockdown is horrific. The vast unemployment being created by government decrees can lead to numerous health issues. Healthy diets are less likely under these conditions. As I’ve seen in my travels around the world, poverty is debilitating. It leads to so much heart break, so much suffering. We need to lift people out of poverty, and the rise of the US economy again can help lift other nations. For their good and ours, I pray that we can shake off these chains and revitalize our economy. As an older guy with not such great lungs, I’d rather be at elevated risk of death by COVID-19 than see the future of our young people jeopardized in the need of keeping me safe. We don’t want anyone to die early, but there’s a balance that must be made with the welfare of our future generations in mind, and that welfare is being shot today.
Speaking of balance, in late March I heard an interview with Dr. Fauci in which he was asked if he looks at the big picture such as the impact on the economy, on jobs, on other aspects of life when he makes recommendations. He said no, his entire focus is on the medical issues:
No, I don’t consider the balancing act; that is a very good question. The president has the awesome responsibility of considering every aspect of this. I just give public health advice completely clean, unconnected with anything else. He has to factor in other things. And that’s the way he operates; he takes in advice from a number of people from a number of different vantage points and then he makes his decision.
Wait, is he serious? Everyone in the media and in Washington seems to be relying on him as the COVID-19 guru for policy decisions, for clues about when we can open up the economy again and what we need to do. He’s making statements about why we need to keep the lockdowns going longer, a major policy matter that goes far beyond pure medical science. His statements are driving policy, but admittedly lack consideration of the economic impacts (and the massive indirect health impacts). So if he were in charge of a task force to reduce automobile deaths, would we all be locked in our homes because that will drop auto fatalities to zero? Heaven help us — and while I’m serious about that request, heaven’s help often requires that we do something first.
The crisis we are in is not just one of health, and not even one about the economy, but a crisis in the battle for liberty. I have been praying that leaders might be more wise, but also that people might be more wise in resisting the erosion of their liberties and the theft of the nation’s wealth. We need miracles and good news, not just for coping with one virus, but with the viral tendency to erode liberty and to exercise unrighteous dominion over others — something that every petty official in the country seems to be doing these days. Imagine fining people for jogging outdoors, handcuffing and dragging away a man in an empty park for playing with his wife and daughter (hey, Colorado folks, that happened in your state!), banning of non-essential medical services (a mindless move that is punishing health care workers as well as patients), and releasing violent criminals including child molesters using the virus as an excuse. These are among the assaults to reason, public welfare, and liberty that have been occurring. Shake off those chains!
Religious liberty, one of the fundamental principles behind the rise of this nation and one of the first rights specifically protected in the Bill of Rights, may be at risk. I appreciate the way our Church has called off meetings. That’s a responsible, voluntary action. But if a group of believers in some other faith wish to gather, even if we think it is irresponsible, what right do we have to stop them? Or to threaten them with permanently closing their churches, as Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City did? In a letter from some of members of Congress to President Trump calling for protection of our religious freedom, it was stated that “recent reports indicate the Governor of Kentucky will be tracking the license plates of any individuals attending Easter services and subsequently forcing them to quarantine for fourteen days. There is no place for this behavior in America.” Looks like we need to include Kentucky in our prayers. The idea of police tracking down and forcing quarantine on citizens for choosing to attend an Easter service seems outrageous. This is still America.
Hey, here’s an idea. Why not get creative but also very safe, and hold a drive-in religious service where every stays in their cars, apart from everyone else, with your windows rolled up while listening to a lonely preacher in the church preach over a weak radio signal? That would work! Oops, sorry, it was tried by the Temple Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi and, apparently under orders from the state, the police came in and fined those religious zealots $500 each for holding a gathering. Honestly, I was really impressed at how calm the man making the video remained as his religious liberties were being threatened. No cussing, no nastiness, just a polite question or too. Well, here’s a proud shout out to you innovative and faithful Baptists for trying this and for holding your ground as Christians even as the police came to your cars issuing tickets, as I saw in the video.
If Constitutional rights only exist when the government says they do, and can be withdrawn whenever someone declares an emergency of some kind exists, then those rights don’t really exist, certainly not as inalienable rights. We need to be reminding our representatives of this. Meanwhile, I hope we can be tolerant of those who wish to gather in a church rather than at Walmart to express their faith and priorities, even if we think gathering at church should be avoided for now. Let that be a voluntary decision.
Don’t overlook the long-lasting implications on liberty from this crisis. While the aim of the Book of Mormon is to turn us to Christ and teach us of Him, it also teaches us about the essential nature of liberty. Without liberty, the work of the Church of Christ can be impeded and the welfare of a nation can be imperiled. The Book of Mormon repeatedly teaches us that there are many people who are looking for excuses to seize power and to exercise unjust control over the lives of others. They will use anger, fear, and even war to manipulate others for their ends. They will corrupt the government or ignore the laws or create vile laws to enforce their agenda. They will enter into “secret works of darkness” to gain wealth or power. Those who believe such things are reflexively called “conspiracy nuts” and are told to trust the elites in government, but the lesson of history across the world for millennia is that humans generally cannot be trusted with unlimited power and that some of the worst among us will gravitate to such power. Being wary of human leaders is not paranoia, but the very loud lesson of world history. It is also an important theme of the Book of Mormon which teaches us not to be naive, not to blindly trust those seeking for power, but to recognize that there may be corruption and danger. It may be time for us to revive that awareness of danger rather than to blindly trust in ever expanding government power. I may be wrong in my views on what politicians are doing, but in any case, we have much to learn from what the Book of Mormon teaches us about dealing with perilous times. Let’s dig in and learn more.
These are dark times. Pray for light, courage, and relief. We need more miracles here including breakthroughs in medical science and breakthroughs in liberty. It can be done.
One final thought: In addition to praying that these lockdowns may end soon, I would like to suggest that in our remote ward and branch council meetings, and in our conversations with family members and friends, that we be sensitive to the sudden eruption of unmet needs that may be occurring among those who may need just as much attention as any victim of the virus, but might be alone and vulnerable due to the isolation created by these lockdowns. When people need visits and attention but visits are banned or seem overly risky, what works? Do calls do enough? Any tips from your experience? I’d love to hear from some experienced people who understand the challenges of mental health issues when everything has become so difficult recently.