Op-Ed: A County Parson’s Take on COVID Part II: It IS More Dangerous

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I write this with no medical experience, other than that of a pastor, who has sat by many a dying man and woman. I’ve no medical degree, but only have picked up the minimum experience one would expect from countless medical visits and hours in the ER and waiting room in my role as a pastor for other people. Typically my “medical advice” is “be assertive” and “you have to advocate for yourself to your care-provider” and “always get a second opinion.” In short, I’m not an expert. In the old days, pastors were considered highly for their medical opinion and their role as coroner and undertaker. In some states, like where I received my ministry license, a course on the proper handling of dead bodies (in the event of a pandemic, when a pastor might be all that was left to bury the dead) was necessary for the state to sign off on the license to marry and bury. But those are days long gone by.

Fellowship Baptist Church in Sidney was one of two churches in Richland County in far-eastern Montana that didn’t close down for COVID-19. For approximately a month, based upon catastrophized reports and terrible predictions of both infection and mortality rates, the church worshipped outside in the cold, and sat in the warmth of their vehicles, tuned into the FM Radio while I preached from the back of my pickup truck into a mic carrying the signal to their car. A honk sufficed for an ‘amen.’ And with snow coming down heavily at the Easter sunrise service, I preached from a mechanical lift at the nearby golf course, to see the crowd and so they could see me at 6AM in the morning. It was unique, but we were eager to get back into the building.

After a six or so weeks of this, we ventured back inside with an optional mask policy. I think I counted four masks since then – two from visitors and two from people whose personal health is none of my business, with most of the congregation happy to be mask-free. We understood the risks, paid close attention to the CDC, the national news, and statewide and county COVID-19 numbers. We also got regular reports from the health department and hospital workers, keeping an eye on hospitalizations and the use of ventilators that came in large supply and were supposed to be our salvation.

I watched the health officers on the other side of the state in Yellowstone, Gallatin, Lewis & Clark, and Missoula Counties issue their dire figures. None came to fruition, and even up until this very day, counties like Gallatin have had the most Chicken Little outlook possible on what has, thus far, killed fewer people in Montana than Planned Parenthood and has been absolutely on par with the seasonal flu (which was miraculously non-existent).

As the resident religious radical, other pastors asked me to visit their quarantined church members, some of whom wanted communion and some of whom just wanted prayer. Their own pastors didn’t want to risk it. And so, I would use my Sundays to visit those of other congregations on behalf of their own pastor and do what it is that pastors do – try to provide comfort to frightened people, along with a prayer, and a little dose of friendship.

In all, I saw approximately 48 people in our small county who had tested positive for COVID-19. I used masks, at first, despite being skeptical of their efficacy based upon Dr. Anthony Fauci saying (again, at first), that they would not work to stop the spread of COVID-19. After several months, not even the infected cared if wore them, but I did, because I was going house-to-house of the infected and didn’t want to take the chance of irresponsibility.

Of those 48 people, zero were hospitalized. None then, of course, needed a ventilator. And most – about 80% or so had no symptoms at all except for half of that 80%, which had the tell-tale sign of no taste or smell. Because I made these visits on Sunday, I quarantined myself to my home and office until the next Sunday to ensure I wasn’t infected before church the next week.

No one I ministered to died. In fact, no one I knew died of COVID-19, except for some with severe co-morbidities and the elderly, leaving the impression that dying of COVID-19 was different than dying from COVID-19. All the dead I knew of, I had heard of, from others, and they all had one thing in common – one foot in the grave already.

However, a resurgence of COVID-19 is undeniable – at least in my anecdotal experience ministering to the ill. Again, local clergy have asked me to carry the task of visiting their quarantine, which I politely turned down because last time it put our mid-week ministry on the back-burner (due to my self-quarantine) and this year, we are plowing forward with our programs. I suppose they will have to just care for their own this time.

But with what I’m calling the COVID-2 Resurgence, it appears from my perspective as one who ministers to the sick, that things are different in the following ways (I visited 4 families on Sunday, for example, who are positive for the illness; of which I remained outside, at a distance to avoid quarantining mid-week).

  1. Those with COVID-2 are now, most of the time, feeling the symptoms.
  2. I would go so far as to say that those I’m now visiting with COVID-2 can mostly be categorized as sick, unlike before. They are not “go to the hospital sick,” per se, but “take a day off of work sick.”
  3. With one exception, of the 12 people I’ve ministered two in the last several weeks with COVID-2, they had been vaccinated or contact-traced their positivity to someone who had been vaccinated. Only one individual had neither been vaccinated nor contracted it from a vaccinated person, and they were the only one without symptoms of illness (with the exception of the loss of taste and smell).

Make of this what you will. It is all anecdotal. This is not a clinical study. But from what I have seen, whatever strand of COVID-19 is going around – whether the Delta Variant or something else, the virus certainly seems to have some common denominators. These are my uneducated observations:

1. The virus certainly seems to be mutating (as viruses do). And those mutations certainly seem worse than what we became aware of in early 2020.

2. I have seen no anecdotal evidence that vaccines have prevented the vaccinated from contracting COVID-19, or from spreading it to others. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case.

3. People are much less likely to participate in contact tracing than they used to be. Take that for better or worse, but that’s my experience. I think everyone is fed up with it, and considers it an invasion of their privacy. We might better have saved that card for a virus that was slightly deadlier than COVID-19 Part 1. People are now even less likely to participate. I believe it was an act of over-reaction on the part of health boards, that we will come to regret in coming months as “contact tracing fatigue” set in.

The conspiracy theorists who claim that vaccinations might make the virus worse, as compared to the natural immunity one received from COVID-19 Part 1, appears anecdotally true in my experience over the last several weeks; in short, if you already had it, I genuinely think you’ll be fine. But if you got the vaccine without having received the virus beforehand, I’m genuinely concerned for you and for those around you as it pertains to mutated strands the vaccines aren’t designed to protect against.

Some nefarious, conspiratorial types (many with medical degrees) cautioned the world that it is better to get the virus given its overwhelming recovery rate as a means of future immunity against virulent mutant strands, which they perceived as inevitable. These same types avoided the vaccines, for the same reasons. It looks to me, at this point, they may very well have been right.

As COVID-19 PART 1 appears to have been a paper tiger, whatever is going around now seems genuinely worse. And that’s post-vaccine. The added booster shots, the claims from Big Pharma that additional vaccinations will be necessary, and the CDC’s reversal on masking, and the absolute absurdity of “the experts'” promise that vaccines would let things “get back to normal” seem shallow, empty, and ignorant.

I don’t write this to frighten you, if you’ve gotten the vaccine or if you’ve yet to develop natural immunity from the weaker version of the virus (which should protect you naturally against the more dangerous stains). I just write this for you to take common-sense precautions.

There are no empirical studies that demonstrate masks work to stop the spread of COVID-19. The CDC has now stated that the plexiglass barriers not only don’t help stop the spread but in fact, could help the spread by limiting free airflow (I wish businesses would watch the news once in a while). And the only thing I know for sure is the following:

1. Those most skeptical of vaccinations seem to be those in the medical profession at local hospitals and clinics. Their advice, to patients, is often largely different than what is spoken by Dr. Anthony Fauci and the CDC (although they will whisper it to you). I was in the ER the other day and zero out of six Registered Nurses had taken the vaccine. That’s not coincidence.

2. Local health boards and school boards (most of whom do not have health degrees), who listen more to the CDC than local physicians (much of the time) are more likely to insist on vaccinations and masks than those with actual health degrees.

3. Distancing is surely more important than masking (like, that’s an understatement of a lifetime), so please stay home if you are feeling sick. Do not go about your regular business, thinking your mask is going to protect others from your sickness.

4. Use common sense when visiting the sick or elderly, especially if you have sickness (of any kind). But for the love of all that’s pure, please grasp that children have been blessed (thus far) with near invulnerability to either symptoms or transmission, so don’t keep them from seeing grandma and grandpa, even if you might need to abstain. We’ve had enough of keeping people apart in 2020-2021 to last a lifetime.

5. Every attempt of the government to help seems to have made things worse, from the perspective of a country parson who visits those with COVID-19.

[Contributed by JD Hall]




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