Help Flatten the COVID-19 Curve with Faith and Reason

Here are some practical and prayerful guidelines to helping slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

A man uses a face mask as a precautionary measure in the face of the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, as he attends Mass in Bogotá on March 12, 2020.
A man uses a face mask as a precautionary measure in the face of the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, as he attends Mass in Bogotá on March 12, 2020. (photo: Photo by RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP via Getty Images)

Since reality includes the natural and the spiritual, everything should be approached with both in mind. Secular society doesn’t often consider the spiritual or supernatural aspect of our existence, but it’s real nonetheless. In this time of uncertainty with the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), here are some ways to use both faith and reason to “flatten the curve” with both practical and prayerful guidance.

1. Respect the civil authorities. Whether they are national, state or local — and even if you disagree with them or think they are overreacting — for the public good, please go along with their instructions to stop the spread of this disease. This is not political. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking confirmed COVID-19 cases globally.

2. Don’t say it’s just like the flu. COVID-19 is not the flu. It is true that there are similarities. Both cause fever, coughing and aches. Both can lead to pneumonia. Both spread through droplets in the air (coughing, sneezing). Neither can be treated with antibiotics. Both can be prevented with hand-washing, refraining from touching your face, and staying home when sick. However, COVID-19 may be transmitted through the air as well and there is no vaccine yet for it, as there is with the flu. Populations have not built up immunities to it, and it’s possible that the mortality rate is higher.

3. Cancel events and stay home if asked to do so. “Flattening the curve” (#flattenthecurve) is a statistical term that refers to reducing the number of infected people. On a graph of the number of cases versus time, a curve represents the rising infections in the beginning of the pandemic, the peak at its worst, and the tapering off of cases as the outbreak ends. The peak of the curve is flattened if fewer cases occur around the peak. This flattening also broadens the curve so that the amount of time the pandemic occurs is longer. However, in mitigating the impact of the infectious disease on populations with non-pharmaceutical interventions, fewer cases over longer times allows the medical and domestic communities to be better able to treat the people who need it. Social distancing and hand-washing prevents the speed with which the virus can spread and flattens that curve.

4. Obey the Church authorities. Like civil authorities, these shepherds are entrusted with the care of their flocks. They must heed civil caution regarding the physical and medical safety while simultaneously safeguarding the spiritual safety of the people. It is not helpful to criticize bishops in public who have, in your opinion, gone too far and canceled Masses. Bishops have the ecclesiastical authority to make decisions for their own dioceses. Where Masses have not been canceled, it is always permissible to stay home if there are serious health concerns. See Michael Bayer’s list on Twitter of Catholic dioceses instructions for attending Mass.

5. Pray for those who are sick and for our leaders. Those who are sick, along with their families, need our prayers so that they can endure the suffering and even the loss of life, if it comes. Leaders require a great deal of the virtue of prudence to make good decisions amid the uncertainty of a novel infectious disease that has spread throughout the world. Hand soap and sanitizer are necessary to stop the spread of the disease from person to person, but the clarity of grace is even more necessary for individuals to think in the light of faith and see this pandemic through. Bishop Joseph Strickland in Tyler, Texas, has called on his priests to hold Eucharistic processions on their church property with safety and proper reverence.

To be human is to innovate, because we are made in the image and likeness of the Triune God. We are rational souls with the power of intellect and free will to make good choices. We are also made for relationship and community. We will learn a lot from this COVID-19 pandemic — medically as new vaccinations are developed, socially as people practice empathy toward each other, and technologically as new ways are discovered to carry on the business of life.