Coronavirus: COVID-19 Response

Updated: Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Dear Holy Spirit family,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Since I wrote you last, the state of Texas has begun its staged reopening. On Thursday, I wrote you about why we weren’t going to regather until at least June 7, and even when we do regather, it will be in smaller groups. It will likely take a year or more for safety conditions to be met well enough for us to return to normal business. If you didn’t read that email, I invite you to now. If you didn’t get it, let me know, and I will forward it to you.

In this email, I want us to look at some numbers and then consider the spiritual terrain the statewide lifting of shelter-at-home orders has put us in.

In the last couple of weeks, some confusing headlines have come out. You might have seen a video of two doctors in Bakersfield explaining why COVID-19 is just as deadly as the flu and therefore the data did not justify our shelter-in-place orders. You might also have seen studies out of Stanford and New York showing fatality percentages that are much lower than we had been seeing before.

To understand what’s going on, we have to make a distinction between the case fatality rate (deaths divided by confirmed cases) and the infection fatality rate (deaths divided by total infections). Right now, the case fatality rate is 5.83% according, an aggregator of data from around the country.

But then, studies from Stanford, New York, and elsewhere estimated that the virus had actually spread much more widely than expected, that there could be as many as fifty times more cases than were confirmed. They then put out fatality rates that dropped the 5.83% all the way down to a range of 0.12% to 0.9%. I remember seeing headline after headline in my social media feed about how this showed that the virus was no worse than the flu.

But this is where the misunderstanding came in. 5.83% is the case fatality rate (deaths divided by confirmed cases). 0.12%-0.9% are estimates of the infection fatality rate(deaths divided by total infections). People saw a big drop in numbers and didn’t catch that one number was an apple and the others were oranges.

Of all the new studies that I’ve seen, the Stanford Santa Clara study is the most conservative with an infection fatality rate between .12% and .2%. If we take the reported .1% infection fatality rate for the common flu for granted (a local medical expert said that was actually case fatality rate and so the infection fatality rate is much lower), then we’re looking at something that is already 20%-100% more deadly than the flu. And that’s only if it infects the same number of people as the flu. As it is a novel coronavirus, it has the potential to infect a large swath of the population. If we take a conservative 70%, then that is a range of 275,000 to 459,000 American deaths.

Other studies like the Stanford one have shown a .5% to .9% infection fatality rate, which yields deaths from 1.1 to 2.1 million if 70% of the American population is infected.

Now, all of this is simple math. We take 70% of the U.S. population and multiply it by the infection fatality rate. It is not the modeling that takes into consideration many, many other variables. Now matter what, though, based on what we know now, we are still looking at a very dangerous virus. As I said on Thursday, our local health officialsexpect there will be a second wave in the Spring. We are all tired, and we want things to return to normal, but that is going to take a lot more time than we might have first expected.

Those are some of the numbers that are helping us think through what’s next for Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, but we also need to acknowledge that on May 1 things changed drastically in our State. It was one thing to operate under shelter-in-place while it was legally required. It’s quite another to continue at home as our Mayor and local health officials have asked while it seems like everyone else is going back to life as normal. It’s jarring, hard, and spiritually treacherous.

Now that we as a parish are bucking the trend towards reopening, it can be easy to start thinking that makes us better than other churches or other people. But, as I’ve said before, the reason we are doing these things is love, love for our parishioners and love for our community. We continue to wear masks because we know that wearing masks protects others from us, not the other way around. We wear masks for the people who aren’t wearing masks because they don’t have access to masks, don’t have access to the same sources of information, or can’t afford them.

No matter where we fall on masks, we are tempted to feel contempt and disdain for the people we meet in public who are doing something differently from us. We cannot let these temptations take root and grow in our souls. When we feel them rising up in us, let’s pray for Christ’s humility to move our hearts in love for the people we meet. Let’s also watch our words when we are together. It’s only then that we can show the face of Christ in our community.

As we continue to journey this long road, let’s continue to be the people who strive to see God’s image and likeness in everyone we meet. Let’s proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. And let’s seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Jason Ingalls