Covid, Science, and Normalcy

Back in the springtime, when New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy effectively closed churches but continued to allow liquor stores to operate, many Christians were upset. Why were liquor stores deemed “essential” while churches, parks, beaches, and other large-gathering places were closed? While the governor claimed he was following “the science,” in actuality, science didn’t show that those places caused mass infections. 

Science showed that people who were stuck at home and drank more alcohol were more likely to engage in domestic violence incidents. Also, science showed that people who lost their jobs and couldn’t make ends meet showed a greater propensity to consider suicide. And science showed that the easiest place to spread the coronavirus wasn’t in church or even in “essential” liquor stores, but by being locked in at home, hospitals, or nursing homes. 

None of that mattered to our state leaders as we went through the early stages of the pandemic here in New Jersey. Eventually, the governor let up on his “keep churches closed” mandate, and we’ve found that churches aren’t mass spreader institutions by looking at the science. That’s one of the reasons that in our recent spate of restrictions, churches aren’t locking down. We still have rules regarding total attendance, cleanliness, and mask-wearing, and for the most part, we’ve stuck to the rules. 

Throughout the country, states are locking down once again. California is the most restrictive state as their numbers of infections increase daily. They’ve locked down restaurants and bars, nail salons and hairdressers. But if you wanted to go shopping in an indoor mall, have at it. Here in New Jersey, high schoolers can’t play indoor sports, but colleges can. Some school districts offer remote learning only, while others do some remote learning/in-class mix. Politicians blame mass-gatherings, like birthday parties, Thanksgiving, and weddings, for the spike in infections.

Or what if they don’t know why infections are rising?

Science shows that restaurants aren’t places where the infection is spreading. Schools, where children are allowed to attend classes aren’t seeing massive spikes in infection rates. And churches aren’t seeing giant leaps in congregants getting sick after attending worship. I don’t know if there is a “Walmart Infection Rate” to worry about, but all their stores are open even if there were. 

Yet, there is one thing that is rising – stress. More and more people are worried about contracting this virus and are angry at people who are “flaunting” the rules. People are mad at others who had large Thanksgiving gatherings or visited family in other parts of the country who are now home in New Jersey. A guy at the New Milford ShopRite yelled at me, claiming that my blue mask wasn’t correctly wrapping around my nose.

“You can die, you know!”

I don’t know when this whole pandemic is going to be in our past. The vaccine-producing companies seem not to have anywhere near enough doses to innoculate the population. Even after they ramp up production, their vaccine numbers will still be lower than needed. Add to the vaccine equation that the whole world needs it, and I am not sure when things here in New Jersey will get back normal. 

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