Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Covid-19 - What We Know

As we're facing a time of transition with the current global situation, it seems a good time to reflect on a couple of important points: what we know and what we've learned.  I think it is especially true given how much there is that we actually do not know about this disease, the future, and how to proceed.  These are important grounding tools when facing uncertainty, focusing on what information we do know and what lessons we hopefully have learned in the process.

Today, we look at what we do know about this virus and the global response.  Please note, this information likely can and will change as we continue to learn more about this virus and its effects.
  • Covid-19 is highly contagious - Though an exact transmission rate is hard to pin down, we do know that the R0 rate is over 1.0.  This means 1 infected person infects multiple people.  Generally, it is ideal for the R0 rate to be below 1.0.  That would mean the virus would die out on its own.  If the R0 were 0.5 for instance, 100 people infect 50 people, who then infect 25 people, who then infect 13, and so on, and so on.  The numbers keep decreasing.  In March, the World Health Organization put the R0 rate for Covid-19 between 2.0 and 2.5.  This would mean 100 people would infect 200 would would then infect another 400 who would then infect 800, etc.  You can see how quickly it could spread.  It is important to note that, as with most things regarding this virus, the R0 value is highly localized and changes over time.  As people get infected and recover, the R number drops, and that's the goal for our facing the virus.  Covid-19's number has varied from around 0.4 to 5.5 or more, depending on location and time.  
  • It is most likely transmitted through droplets - From the CDC, "The virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person, mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Spread is more likely when people are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet)."  This is why face coverings over the mouth and nose, social distancing of more than 6 feet apart, and hand-washing and proper hygiene are so important.  They reduce the likelihood droplets will be transferred from person to person.  Face coverings keep your droplets closer to you.  It's a barrier from you spreading them farther away.  Social distancing greater than 6 feet increases the distance a droplet would have to travel, decreasing the likelihood it would reach another person.  Proper hand-washing and keeping your hands away from your face prevents transmitting droplets from your hands to your mouth and nose.  
  • You can transmit the disease even though you have no symptoms - While people are thought to be most contagious when they are symptomatic (feverish, coughing, sour throat, etc.), asymptomatic carriers are the great danger of this disease.  You can spread it without ever even knowing you had it.  This is particularly true of younger populations.  Children, teenagers, young adults can all transmit the disease but feel no ill effects.  This is another reason why wearing face coverings, social distancing, and proper hygiene are so important, even among those who appear to be healthy.
  • Though high contagious, most people will have no to mild effects - Though the disease can be easily transmitted, only around 7-15% of the infected are getting a serious version of the disease.  The vast majority of people become infected will have mild symptoms, if they experience symptoms at all.  For those with more moderate symptoms, it can feel like a prolonged or more severe flu.  Only a small percentage of the population gets a more serious version of the disease.  Unfortunately, that more serious version of the disease is lethal.
  • For those that do get sicker, the virus is lethal - The global mortality rate for Covid-19 is around 6%.  That means 40%-80% of serious cases are lethal.   That's largely because...
  • We do not know how to treat this virus - This virus is presenting in ways that doctors have never seen.  We do not have a known medicine to administer to treat.  Recent tests on hydroxychloroquine, the one drug that has been mentioned the most, have not been promising, with seriously ill patients being more likely to die on the drug than off.  Further, the disease is presenting in several different ways.  For example, for some young people, their first symptom of the virus has been a stroke, given the blood clotting effects of the virus.  Doctors are confronting things they've never seen before.  "Happy hypoxemics," or patients with abnormally low levels of oxygen, but able to breathe relatively easily.  The one thing we do know, is that the virus affects certain populations much more severely - the elderly and those with underlying conditions.  94% of the deaths related to Covid-19 have had underlying conditions.
  • America has a lot of underlying conditions - we have one of the worst diets globally, we are the 12th most obese country in the world, and around 12th in heart disease.  This is suspected to be the reason we are seeing more Covid-19 cases among younger populations. 
  • Covid-19 has reached all corners of the globe - There are Covid-19 cases on every continent across the globe, with the exception of Antarctica.  5,563,260 cases of Covid-19 worldwide, 346,680 deaths.  Virtually every country on the planet has been faced with this crisis and they are reacting to it in a variety of ways.  Rest assured, the lockdown, its duration, frustration with the government response, these are not unique problems to the United States of America.  Everyone is struggling with how to respond, what to do, how to react and balance issues related to the virus with economics and other considerations.
  • The Covid-19 Crisis is not over - the virus is not dead, nor is it cured.  It is still spreading, though thankfully at slower rates due to the measures that were taken.  There will be a likely second wave come the fall/winter.  There will be spikes as more things open up.  We will still be working at finding effective treatments and a vaccine.  
These are all important to remember in order to contextualize why we have taken the steps that we did.  Why things closed.  Why we wear masks.  Why we social distance.  It's particularly for those among us that are most at risk.  Because those who get a serious effects from the virus are very likely to die.  Especially given that we don't know how to treat this virus, yet.  We take every precaution we can so that we are not the carrier of the virus to someone who cannot handle it.  

We remember this to remember we are doing all of this, taking these steps and precautions for the benefit of other people.  

For the greater good.

E pluribus unum.

Tomorrow, what we have hopefully learned from this virus and the effects it has made on society.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day 2020

"As for us, our days of combat are over. Our swords are rust. Our guns will thunder no more. The vultures that once wheeled over our heads must be buried with their prey. Whatever of glory must be won in the council or the closet, never again in the field. I do not repine. We have shared the incommunicable experience of war; we have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top.

Three years ago died the old colonel of my regiment, the Twentieth Massachusetts. He gave the regiment its soul. No man could falter who heard his "Forward, Twentieth!"

I went to his funeral. From a side door of the church a body of little choir- boys came in alike a flight of careless doves. At the same time the doors opened at the front, and up the main aisle advanced his coffin, followed by the few gray heads who stood for the men of the Twentieth, the rank and file whom he had loved, and whom he led for the last time.

The church was empty. No one remembered the old man whom we were burying, no one save those next to him, and us. And I said to myself, The Twentieth has shrunk to a skeleton, a ghost, a memory, a forgotten name which we other old men alone keep in our hearts.

And then I thought: It is right. It is as the colonel would have it. This also is part of the soldier's faith: Having known great things, to be content with silence. Just then there fell into my hands a little song sung by a warlike people on the Danube, which seemed to me fit for a soldier's last word, another song of the sword, but a song of the sword in its scabbard, a song of oblivion and peace.

A soldier has been buried on the battlefield.

And when the wind in the tree-tops roared,
The soldier asked from the deep dark grave:
"Did the banner flutter then?"
"Not so, my hero," the wind replied.
"The fight is done, but the banner won,
Thy comrades of old have borne it hence,
Have borne it in triumph hence."
Then the soldier spake from the deep dark grave:
"I am content."

Then he heareth the lovers laughing pass,
and the soldier asks once more:
"Are these not the voices of them that love,
That love--and remember me?"
"Not so, my hero," the lovers say,
"We are those that remember not;
For the spring has come and the earth has smiled,
And the dead must be forgot."
Then the soldier spake from the deep dark grave:
"I am content." "

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Closing Remarks, The Soldier's Faith, Memorial Day, May 30, 1895

May we never forget their sacrifice.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

It's Not About Me

With yesterday's post getting so much attention, I thought it appropriate to discuss why understanding worship, why viewing it in the appropriate context is so appropriate. 

Why we have to move past thinking of it as something we go to.  Move past viewing it an hour or so long appointment on Sunday mornings (and maybe Sunday and Wednesday evenings).

That comes from remembering who worship is for.

Remembering that it's not really about us.

Worship is not about that feeling I get from singing songs in a group setting.

It's not about that feeling of conviction or exhortation we get from a message.

It's not about that joy of communal fellowship.

It's not about something labeled a "worship service."

It's not about the leadership of the church.

It's not about the other members of the church.

It's not about us.

It's not about me.

Worship exists for one purpose - to glorify God.

Worship is about God above, and God alone.

Sure, worship can encompass all the things above.  It can involve singing, it can involve the preaching of the word.  It can involve hearing a message.  It can involve fellowship.  It can be in a building, it can be in a formal structure, it can be just how you have experienced it.

But that's not all that it is.  That barely scratches the surface of worship.

Worship can be being moved by God's creation.  Worship can be an act of simple gratitude.  An act of kindness.  An act of mercy.  Worship can be loud and noisy.  It can also be still and quiet.  It can be out among the multitudes, as in the largest evangelism crusades that Billy Graham ever had.  It can happen all alone, in a quiet corner, of a quiet room.  It can happen on the battlefield.  It can happen at work.  Yes, it can even still happen in our schools today.

It can happen physically and it can be sent out and shared virtually.

It is, quite literally, what we were made for.

You and I are created to worship.  If we do not do it, the very rocks will cry out.  Further, I guarantee that you are worshipping something, even if you would claim no belief.  Everyone worships something.  Money, status, self, their spouse, their kids, leisure.  Something.

While we have a responsibility in the process in Christian worship, while we are involved, it's not about us.  The focus should never be on us.

To misunderstand this can bring us closer to worshipping the wrong things.  Closer to idolatry than we would like to imagine.  It can make us enforcers of form over substance.  Bring us close to worshipping our style of worship, the building we attend, our ministers performing the service over the one true God who has called us to worship.

This was the problem of the Pharisees.  According to Jewish tradition, they were the best worshippers.  They followed every religious custom.  They prayed the right prayers, worshipped the right way, they met the requirements that we would identify as worship.  They went to the temple, they gathered like they were supposed to do, attended all the right meetings, and to the Jewish people of the day, they appeared the most pious.

But Jesus had to remind them that their focus on form over substance, on their focus on tradition instead of actual worship, was worthless.

"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works that they do.  For they preach, but they do not practice.  They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their little finger.  They do all their deeds to be seen by others.  For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.  By you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.

And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.  The greatest among you shall be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces.  For you neither neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves...'"
Matthew 23:1-15

Jesus continues on through all of his seven woes, but I think the point is made.  The Pharisees were so focused on their ways of worship, the way that the conceived of worship, that they missed the opportunity to worship the Messiah when He was right there before them.  He was calling them out of their familiar, to experience true worship, and they completely missed it.

A great example of this can also be found in the story of the woman at the well.  After all the initial questions are dispensed with.  After Jesus has revealed just how well He knows her, the question turns to where to worship.

"The woman said to him, 'Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.'  

Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.'
John 4:19-24

The Samaritans and the Jews had always disagreed about how to worship.  About where worship was to occur.  And here in this conversation with a Samaritan, Jesus reveals that they have both been missing the point.  Worship is not about a location.  It's about a spirit.  Worship is about glorifying God and we must do that in spirit and in truth.  Those are the requirements.  

That's why being out of our buildings should not phase the church.  It's why the church can't be re-opened, because the Church was never closed.  We who make up the Body of Christ, the great universal Church, have been open and active in this time.

There was an opportunity in this time for our worship to have increased.  I have seen it happen and I pray it has happened for you.  That is what we should take away from this.  What we should carry with us long beyond this crisis is over.  To move our worship beyond a building, beyond our previous ideas of what worship entails into spirit and truth.

Let's focus on that and not a temporary interruption of our meeting together.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Your Right to Worship Was Not Infringed

I'm going to get some mail on this one, so let's jump right into it.

Much ado has been made over the past couple of days that President Trump has "opened up" the churches.  

"The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now -- for this weekend.  If they don't do it, I will override the governors."

"In America, we need more prayer not less."

"Some governors have deemed the liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential.  But have left out churches and other houses of worship.  It's not right.  So I'm correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential."

These are really nice sounding words that are essentially meaningless.  They accomplish nothing but pandering to his base.  It's unclear that he has any authority to accomplish any of this, but it makes for a good sound byte.

On a grander scale, these comments get to the root of some fundamental misunderstandings regarding the whole issue. 
  • That's Not How Federalism Works - One of the issues that has dogged us through the entire Covid-19 pandemic is the United States of America is not one monolithic whole.  We are, for better and worse, a collection of differences.  Different races, different religions, different regions, different geographies, different proximities, and different states.  Our government is a republic comprised of 50 very different states, and we have generally preferred a reservation of a lot of key issues to the state level.  That has included how to handle emergency situations.  In this pandemic, stay-at-home orders, emergency declarations, lockdowns, etc. have all been handled at the state and local level.  Trump forcing states to open back up would be as gross an overreach of federal power as it would have been to institute a national lockdown.  Of course, that's the hypocrisy of the Republican Party.  It preaches limited federal government, so long as it accomplishes their purposes.  If it needs the big federal government to step in for its goals, well then, all is fair.
  • That's Not How Our Rights Work in America - The loudest voices raised surrounding this issue have alleged that our absolute rights to freedom of assembly and free exercise of worship have been infringed.  That the government should do nothing to stand in our way, under absolutely no circumstances can or should they interfere, and that this has all been a gross overreach of power in opposition to the Constitution.  Plus, that it's likely a trial run for shutting down churches in the future.  Have to throw in a good conspiracy into there.  All of this presumes that the government does not add limitations to any of the rights we have under the Bill of Rights.  That is false.  The government places limitations on all of our rights in that document.  You can't yell fire in a crowded theater.  There are limitations on who can own guns.  Your worship cannot include human sacrifice.  The tests has never been whether or not government action places any limitation on our rights.  The test has always been whether it has been reasonable.  (That's a gross simplification, as there are different standards for the different rights, but reasonableness covers a lot of it).  The test for free exercise is a compelling interest.  If the government places a burden on the practice of religion, does it have a compelling interest in doing so?   Public health and safety has been found to be a compelling interest.  Plus, the shut downs had the benefit of being limited in durations, neutrally applied (they didn't single out churches, the rules applied to everyone), and never actually required the churches to be closed.  That's right - the shut down orders didn't require them to close, they just put limitations on the numbers that could be present.  Ten or fewer still could have gathered.  This point is the one that makes me so frustrated when people share the false claim that mosques were open in New York City but not churches.  It was a purposefully misleading headline that fooled a lot of people.  The mosques had less than ten people in at a time praying.  Christian churches had the ability to do the same thing.  But that's an inconvenient point. 
At this point, I think it's probably time to make the most controversial statement in this whole post - If you are a Christian, your right to free exercise of religion has not been infringed by this whole process.

I'll shout it a little louder for those in the back.


And that's because of point number 3 -
  • That's Not How Worship Works - If you believe that your right to worship has been infringed, I would offer that you fundamentally do not understand what worship is.  Worship has nothing to do with being in the building on Sunday morning.  It does not need a pastor.  It does not need a worship leader/music minister/song leader/whatever you want to call them.  It does not need other people around you.
Worship is not a service you attend.

Worship is a way of life.  It's something you should be doing every day.  Every hour, every second.

It's why Stonepoint always ended with "Have a Great Week of Worship."  It was a recognition that what happened on Sunday morning was only a brief blip in the worship of a believer.

And even if your entire focus was on Sunday morning, there were still so many options available to you to create that experience.  Worship music is available on every radio and all over the net.  Biblical teaching can be found online or on the radio or television from so many sources.  Full sermons and worship services can be streamed from a plethora of great churches across this country.  Even small little country town churches began sending messages and devotionals out online.

Even if all that was not accessible, you still had the option of family worship.  For where two or three gather in His name, there He is.  That can be church.

If we are going to complain about missing some key point of Christian living, let's at least use the right terminology.  We're missing fellowship, not worship.  And I get it, fellowship is important.  I'm missing it too.  But there have been ways to accomplish this virtually to help slow and stop the spread of this virus.  To not do more harm than good. 

Further, fellowship is not something that should be limited to Sunday either. The early church continually met in the homes of each other.  Our Christian fellowship may have been impacted, but it should not have stopped during this time.

Let's remember why this restriction was imposed on church buildings in the first place.  Churches generally have larger populations of older people.  Those that are more at risk.  There are some churches that may be primarily serving elderly populations.  Or your church may be one where the elderly come into close contact with the very young - those that may be carriers but not at risk for the deadly effects of the virus.  

There have been a couple of examples that have displayed the risk very well.  In Arkansas, a pastor and his wife attended church related events on March 6 through March 8.  At the time, they didn't have symptoms.  They later developed respiratory symptoms and fever on March 10 and 11, later confirmed to be Covid-19.  During the church related events, the pastor and wife came in contact with 92 people.  At least 35 of the 92 people they came in contact with acquired Covid-19.  That's 38%.  Three of those people died.  Further, those 35 infected people were confirmed to infect 26 other people. One of which died.

Likewise, in Washington, in late March 60 people attended a choir rehearsal.  No one was exhibiting symptoms.  No one appeared to be sick.  And yet, 45 attendees contracted Covid-19 from the rehearsal.  Two died.

These stories could happen at any church across America right now.  We still have a virus that has no cure or no vaccine.  A virus that we know little about that is highly contagious.  And while it is mild for the vast majority of people that contract it, for those that do get sick from it, it is lethal.  Lethal without any known ways to manage it.

I don't know, I suppose I'm just punchy.  Getting tired of armchair Constitutional scholars.  The one that really got me was someone indignant at the thought that churches were impacted, but yet self-admitting that they do not attend anywhere, nor are they in a hurry to do so.  The coopting of "religion" for political gain.

This should have been a point where we were different.  Where we stuck out because of how well the Church adapted.  How well it went to work aiding those around them, like I have seen so many churches do.

Not just standing around griping and complaining, waiting for things to be exactly as they were before, as I've seen far to many do.

Friday, May 22, 2020

For Such A Time As This

"As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it.  Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length.  Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before."
Joshua 3:3-4

This past Sunday, the church that we will be joining focused on this passage above for its message.  It focused on identifying what to do when you find yourself at a place that is unfamiliar.  When you don't know the way forward.  When life doesn't go as planned.  The lesson from Joshua being that the Lord led the way for His people forward, and He is still doing it today.

The pastor discussed a bit of the church's history over the past two years and how it had prepared them for this current crisis.  The church has strong roots in the town, founded in 1837 as Brownsburg Christian Church.  It has been growing and changing over the past 163 years.  

Now, this church is big.  Five thousand to six thousand, five hundred members/attenders.  Six services.  The church campus looks like a school campus in size.  It's close to mega church.  But when we consider the demographics of the community around it, it's proportionately size to the town and surrounding area.  For example, it would reach the same size percentage as Stonepoint does in Wills Point and Edgewood.

Two years ago, the church found itself at a decision point.  Given the church's growth and trajectory, it was time to think towards expansion.  Most of the elders and members assumed this would occur in the way this normally occurs.  Satellite campuses.  Church split to found another church in another location.  Etc.

Pastor John Dickerson had a different vision.  He knew God wanted them to go a different path.  He saw a much needed investment in digital technology.  Envisioning the churches expansion path forward in a virtual world.  To get services and more online and accessible, so that the church could have a world-wide reach.  This included live streaming services, updating the churches webpage to be more accessible and interactive.  Designing apps for various platforms to provide a centralized location for sermons and services, as well as modifying them for upload on popular platforms like Facebook and Youtube.  I've recently discovered their AppleTV app for example.  We were previously watching on TV via Facebook Watch.

This required a new way of thinking.  New equipment, new service roles.  It was an entirely different picture of how to proceed.  A completely new path.

And at the time, the need was not as easily recognizable.  Two years ago, who could have imagined the need for great numbers of people to experience church virtually.  

Here we are.

While Pastor John focused on Joshua, I kept thinking of Esther.  Esther was a young Jewish girl, taken into sex slavery, to be a concubine for the king, one of his "queens," who ended up capturing his attention.  It's not exactly the future she might have imagined for herself.  And yet, it's that very situation that put her in a position to save her people.

"And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"
Esther 4:14b

Pastor John had the vision for the future, yes, and it was a digital vision that would be beneficial regardless of the times.  But it especially prepared the church for such a time as this.  It was a bold move in the past that made them particularly suited to grow and to help so many people in this crisis.  They've shared story after story of blood drive, of PPE drives, of food drives, of donations that are occurring and possible now because of their obedience then.

It prepared them to easily transition into virtual church.  To add services so that the members stay connected during this time.  To add a Thursday night worship service.  Virtual prayer services.  Etc.  Welcome Meetings over Zoom.  Small group meetings over Zoom.  To make a big church feel small.

While it would have been great to be able to go into a church when we moved here and get to know it, we still feel connected to this new body and know this is the place we are called to attend.  We have felt connected to them and they have been reaching out to us to check on us during this time.

No one expects a global pandemic, but they were prepared.

I think back over our own story the past year and how God prepared us for such a time as this.  How we would not have been able or in any position to move, if Jamie didn't know it was time to take a break from teaching and focus on Avalyn and Jude.  If I didn't lose my job.  I can look at how I've been prepared to work from home during this crisis at a brand new job and not be anxious, because I was already doing so in project work for months before we moved.

If we listen, if we follow, if we are obedient, God prepares us for the path ahead.  He sends His covenant ahead of us to show us the way.  And He teaches us along the way to be prepared for whatever situation He is leading us into.

How has God prepared you for such a time as this?  

And then the next question, are you stepping out and doing what He has prepared you for?  

Or are you hoping this moment will pass you by?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

CDC on Reopening School

As I'm sure you have seen by now, the Center for Disease Control has released guidelines for schools to use in reopening.  They are already generating a lot of discussion, mostly negative, but I think there are a few important points to keep in mind.

  1. Check The Source - If you are going to comment on the guidelines, please be sure you are getting them from the CDC directly.  They can be found at this link - https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/schools.html.  Please don't trust other posts on social media that are trying to summarize the guidelines.  For example, the blue background image below contains a lot of false information that is not in the CDC guidelines, such as presenting items as absolutes instead of a series of preferences. For example, regarding communal shared spaces, the CDC guidelines are not just to close them, but to close if possible, otherwise disinfect.  Likewise, it overstates the guidelines on sharing objects.  CDC recommendations are to limit sharing of objects that are difficult to clean or disinfect.  I know the image is supposed to be shorthand, but it really overstates the guidelines that have been promulgated.  Plus, it misspells guidelines right off the bat (guidlines).
  2. Remember, They Are Guidelines - The CDC has no authority to enforce these guidelines.  They are meant for public consumption and adaptation to the local environment.  This is even written in the guidelines themselves.  "Schools can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community. Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community.Emphasis mine.  The CDC's job is to present the most comprehensive guidelines possible that will have the greatest impact on preventing the spread of this disease.  It's just like when Dr. Fauci recommends social distancing measures until a vaccine is created.  It's what the scientists do.  That is their function.  They make the recommendations that will have the greatest impact.  It's up to the local governing bodies to determine how these guidelines actually get put to use.  I have no doubt some schools may actually implement all these steps.  Some schools may implement very few of them.  We do not know yet how that will play out.  Especially given the time factor.
  3. These Guidelines Are For Right Now - meaning they can and likely will change.  These are not the guidelines for reopening schools in the fall.  These are guidelines for opening schools now.  Again, from the very opening of the guidelines, "As some communities in the United States open K-12 schools, CDC offers the following considerations for ways in which schools can help protect students, teachers, administrators, and staff and slow the spread of COVID-19."  We're conditioned to thinking this is fall because we know the schools around us have largely closed for the remainder of the school year.  That is not what the CDC is considering.  They have to factor in schools that may be reopening.  Schools that need to hold summer school.  Schools that are considering opening in a couple of weeks to finish.  Etc, etc, etc.  The guidelines as promulgated are what would be recommended to open a school right now.  That guidance could look very different by August, based on what we will learn about this virus in two months time.  We are continuing to fill in gaps in our knowledge regarding Covid-19 and will continue to do so over the coming months.  
I know some schools are already indicating how things will look in the fall semester.  The University of Texas has indicated that students should plan to come and be on campus from August to November, but plan to have class virtually from after Thanksgiving on to finish the semester.  While it's good to plan, that's likely premature given how wide the gap between what we know and what we do not about this virus.

We're still learning and will continue to do so.  We will continue to adapt based on what we learn.  It's how we proceed.  School may look different from what we are used to, but it doesn't mean that the whole set of guidelines listed now will be needed come the fall.  I know everyone is anxious, I know everyone wants to get back to "normal," whatever that means.  And, we'll get there.  It may not be as fast as everyone wants, but we'll get there.

In the interim, let's keep calm.  Let's be cautious.  Let's be gracious. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Voting Coercion, or Quid Pro Quo Deja Vu

[ Sigh ]

That's not how this works.  That's not how any of this works.

It's not how our voting laws work and it's not how federalism works.

To start, it's not illegal and is in fact a vital part of our electoral process.  It is the basis in which many important populations vote, including the president himself and our armed forces abroad.

For federal elections, 30 states allow some form of vote-by-mail for absentee or early voting.  In 2016, this accounted for 25% of the ballots cast in the presidential election, or roughly 33 million ballots.

There are also five states (Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Hawaii, and California), that are conducting all vote-by-mail elections.  Oregon was the first state to conduct a presidential election entirely by mail back in 2000.  80% of registered voters participated at that time.

From polls this year, 58% of Americans favor vote-by-mail, despite the Republican and Fox News efforts to scare people into opposition.

The fear comes from a belief that Republicans lose if vote by mail is expanded to allow everyone to vote by mail.  President Trump said in March that the policy would mean, "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again."  Georgia's Republican speaker of the House said vote-by-mail would be "extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia."  Partisan concerns over vote by mail also motivated the recent actions in Wisconsin during the height of the pandemic regarding their state's primary election.

A recent study, however, has reaffirmed years of prior research that neither party benefits when a state switches to universal vote by mail.  There is a negligible effect on partisan rates.  It is truly a non-partisan issue.

What it does, though, is raise across the board voter turnout.  "Vote-by-mail causes around a 2-percentage-point increase (estimates range from 1.9 to 2.4 percentage points) in the share of the voting-age population that turns out to vote."

That should be something both parties wish to achieve.  That should have bi-partisan support.
And yet, here we are.

Neither Nevada nor Michigan are doing anything that should come under President Trump's direction.  The states have vast control in forms of voting, voting eligibility, voting requirements in both state and federal elections.  The federal government has limited control.  

Trump's strong arm tactics are unsurprising, mob tactics that he has demonstrated before.  At their most base level, they are simply an overreach.  An abuse of power that he does not have.  If this were any other presidency, this would be an impeachable offense.

What is particularly galling is that the funding he is threatening to withhold to Michigan is FEMA disaster relief funding needed from the flooding resulting from the bursting of dams in Midland County, mid-Michigan.  He's once again leveraging humanitarian aid for political obedience.

We suspected he would learn nothing from his impeachment, and we are correct.

We have to start speaking out in louder voices.  To support Michigan and Nevada.  To condemn this kind of quid pro quo.  And it should be coming from both sides of the political spectrum.

Otherwise, I feel we will find ourselves in a similar state as Georgia, where the Republican governor cancelled a democratic election to fill the seat on the state Supreme Court so he could appoint the new justice himself.  From February, when the state justice resigned to May, when the election was to be held, factions in the state have been fighting over interpretations of narrow provisions of the state constitution that would determine whether the governor could appoint or whether it should go to election.  The fight progressed all the way to Georgia's Supreme Court.  To hear the case, six of the state justices had to recuse themselves and be replaced by lower court judges.  It's so complicated a scheme to get approval for the gubernatorial appointment that it should be particularly galling.

We are moving rapidly from democracy to authoritarianism in ways that should seem shocking, but instead seem common place.  

Have we become that desensitized?

Will we wake up from it?

Perhaps the ad has it right - it is mourning in America.