2020
April
27
Monday

Monitor Daily Podcast

April 27, 2020
Loading the player...

TODAY’S INTRO

COVID-19: When calls for prayer go global

We're starting our week with a themed Daily for you. We have six stories today, all looking at elements of the coronavirus pandemic, from its politics to the handling of locking down and opening up in the United States, Sweden, and Spain – and in urban areas as well as parks. We hope you'll enjoy it. We'll start with a global call for prayer. 

It seems we can’t be reminded enough of our brotherhood and sisterhood amid COVID-19. Red hearts hanging in windows help us along, as do messages that “We’re all in this together!” Yet anger and threats, even if from a vocal minority, have started to rear up as the pandemic wears on. 

So two developments in Jerusalem last week were eye-catching in their aim to break through the noise. The Jewish women’s group Momentum launched a global prayer movement to support health care workers. “Pray for those in need, including yourself, it will give you strength and help lift the world,” they wrote. And the city’s chief rabbis and Muslim and Christian leaders gathered on a balcony overlooking the Old City, reciting together a prayer for the world.

Their faith traditions all urge rising above differences. The book of Genesis: “Let there not be strife ... for we be brethren.” The book of Matthew: “whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them.” The Quran, chapter Al Imran: “Hold firmly to the rope of God and do not become divided.” 

Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen recently wrote of reaching out on social media – an often hard-edged space – for support for his mother, hospitalized with COVID-19. “My family was enveloped in the compassionate embrace of countless strangers,” he wrote. Many sent prayers; many, “good vibes.” Some were political soulmates, some not; it didn’t matter. “To everyone praying for my mom: Thank you,” he wrote. Quoting a gospel song, he added, “I’m so glad you prayed.”

As tensions mount over lockdowns, Trump courts both sides

In the United States, politics has sharply asserted itself in the handling of the pandemic. President Trump is pushing a bifurcated – and risky – message as he looks to Nov. 3 and tries to shape voters’ views of how he handled the crisis.

Amelia

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

With six months until Election Day, President Trump is hoping voters will see him as having done all he can to save the nation from economic meltdown – while also protecting public health in a pandemic that has so far claimed 55,000 American lives.

That has produced seemingly contradictory messages: On the one hand, Mr. Trump has been urging governors to follow science-based federal guidelines for a phased “opening of America.” At the same time, he’s been egging on protesters at state capitols who are rebelling against those same guidelines that are keeping most Americans sheltering in place. 

It is an apparent political effort to “have his cake and eat it too.” In a fundamental way, Mr. Trump is also tapping into the nation’s deep roots in individualism and personal responsibility, as well as a growing distrust on the right in experts and elites.

But “there’s a real risk here,” says Steven Schier, a professor emeritus of political science at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. “Public opinion is clearly not with these protests to open up now. So he has to worry that he’s associating himself with an unpopular movement that could produce some bad results.” 

Collapse

1. As tensions mount over lockdowns, Trump courts both sides

In a past life – that is, before COVID-19 – President Donald Trump was banking on a strong economy to usher him into a second term. 

That calculation has largely evaporated, but not entirely. With six months until Election Day, President Trump is now asking voters to make a multi-step mental leap: Remember the once-robust economy, and then see him as having done all he can to save the nation from economic meltdown, while also trying to protect public health in a pandemic that has so far claimed 55,000 American lives.

The bifurcated approach has produced seemingly contradictory messages: On the one hand, Mr. Trump has been urging governors to follow science-based federal guidelines for a phased “opening of America.” At the same time, he’s been egging on protesters at state capitols who are rebelling against those very same guidelines that are keeping most Americans sheltering-in-place. 

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

It is a risky gambit – an apparent political effort to “have his cake and eat it too,” as he whips up his core supporters with calls to “liberate” their states, while trying not to alienate the more mainstream voters he will need in November. The latest poll numbers in key battleground states show Mr. Trump losing to former Vice President Joe Biden. 

In a fundamental way, Mr. Trump is also tapping into the nation’s deep roots in individualism and personal responsibility, as well as the right's growing distrust of experts and elites.

“He’s been very good at building a base, which is very loyal to him, and continuing to remind the base he’s on their side,” says historian Michael Kazin, an expert on populism at Georgetown University. “As the economy gets worse, more and more people will say that while the virus might be dangerous, it’s also dangerous to have businesses close up for good.”

The political challenges are several fold. Social distancing means no campaign rallies for the foreseeable future. Online campaign events – attracting audiences in the hundreds, not thousands – aren’t the same. That forces him to rely all the more on Twitter and friendly news outlets to reach his supporters. 

Even Mr. Trump’s daily coronavirus briefings, which have attracted high viewership and given him a platform to spar with media, have gone south. Since his controversial appearance last Thursday, when he sparked an uproar by seeming to float the idea of ingesting disinfectants to treat COVID-19, he has dialed way back. On Friday he took no questions, and over the weekend did not hold any briefings at all. Monday’s scheduled briefing was initially canceled, then reinstated. 

Alex Brandon/AP
President Donald Trump watches as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the press briefing room of the White House in Washington April 22, 2020.

The anti-lockdown rallies themselves also represent a mixed bag for Mr. Trump. On one level, they reflect the spirit of rebellion that gave rise to his presidency, and before that the tea party movement. But they also attract fringe elements. Some have featured Confederate battle flags and signs with swastikas

Some protesters bring firearms, though they have been urged not to. In Virginia, pre-coronavirus protests centered on gun rights have morphed into anti-quarantine protests. At a “drive-by” rally at the state capitol in Richmond last week, the messages contained heartfelt pleas by people eager to return to work and worried their rights are being trampled. 

“I am not a COVID-19 denier,” says Steve Walker, a self-employed mechanic from Chesterfield, Virginia, speaking by phone after the rally. “But I believe that the government’s response to this is overreaching.” 

He worries that if the closures aren’t dialed back soon, the food supply could be at risk. But when asked about the Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag his son waved out the window of their green Dodge Durango during the protest, Mr. Walker reveals a deeper sense of grievance. 

The flag, common at lockdown protests and a tea party symbol, “is a warning to the government: We don’t work for you, you work for us,” Mr. Walker says. “And if you continue on a course toward tyranny, there will be repercussions. You have a good chance of seeing armed revolt in this state.” 

Much has been made of the support some anti-quarantine protests have received from national groups and people with White House connections, such as Stephen Moore, who serves on the administration’s advisory board for reopening the economy. 

But, supporters note, no one is paying protesters or forcing them to show up. The anti-quarantine efforts are a natural outgrowth of the libertarian “less government, more freedom” ethos of groups like FreedomWorks, which has 5 million Facebook followers. 

“A lot of the people who were involved in the tea party movement have remained active in FreedomWorks,” says Adam Brandon, the group’s president. “We’re in touch.” 

In the last three years, he says, the group has trained 25,000 activists by sponsoring “fly-ins” to Washington and holding regional events.

Still, Mr. Trump’s all-caps tweets on April 17 calling to “LIBERATE” Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia were startling. The day before, the president had released a three-phase plan to “reopen America,” guidance aimed at helping states shift responsibly toward opening their economies without inviting a surge of new COVID-19 cases.

In fact, 8 in 10 Americans support the shelter-in-place orders in effect in most states, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and many governors have seen a spike in their job approval ratings amid the pandemic. 

Some governors worried the president was calling for an armed insurrection. When Democratic Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz saw the tweet, he reached out to Mr. Trump. The two eventually had a “very nice call,” according to a Trump tweet. 

“The tweeting Trump isn’t necessarily the phoning Trump,” says Steven Schier, an emeritus political science professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. 

But “there’s a real risk here,” Professor Schier says. “Public opinion is clearly not with these protests to open up now. So he has to worry that he’s associating himself with an unpopular movement that could produce some bad results.” 

The three states that Mr. Trump tweeted “liberate” messages at have Democratic governors. Mr. Trump is hoping to win Minnesota in November, after barely losing there in 2016. Virginia voted Democratic by more than 5 percentage points. But Michigan is a true battleground, voting for Mr. Trump in 2016 by just a fraction of a percent – and he is fighting hard to keep it in 2020. 

It’s worth noting that the United States appears to be the only country with any significant anti-quarantine protests. Part of it is a reflection of American political culture, in which freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are enshrined in the Constitution.

“There is a lot of social media frustration over the lockdown in several European countries, including the Netherlands and U.K., but I have not seen many open demonstrations,” writes Cas Mudde, a professor in the school of public and international affairs at the University of Georgia, in an email. “Of course, what makes the U.S. so remarkable, is that the president is by and large opposing his own policies.”

Seth Herald/Reuters
Protesters against the state's extended stay-at-home order to help slow the spread of the coronavirus demonstrate at the Capitol building in Columbus, Ohio, April 20, 2020.

Professor Mudde also notes that Mr. Trump is raising expectations about a return to normalcy with his public support for the protests, but could soon be confronted with a second outbreak in states that soften their lockdowns – including Georgia, where he lives. If that prompts a renewed tightening of lockdown measures, he adds, it could turn the protesters against the president.

One protester, Tom Zawistowski of Akron, Ohio, is a longtime tea party activist, and has opposed the restrictive actions of his state’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine. The governor has won praise for shutting down Ohio early, but to activists like Mr. Zawistowski, it’s an abuse of power. 

He points to a high infection rate in some Ohio prisons but few deaths, and believes both Governor DeWine and Mr. Trump are overreacting to the virus – and doing deep harm to the economy in the process. 

“I’m going to keep asking questions,” Mr. Zawistowski said Friday, as he prepared for a protest in Columbus, Ohio, the next day. He indicated he would not wear a mask. 

Mr. Brandon of FreedomWorks rejects the “no mask” approach to the protests. 

“I know the press is gravitating toward people not wearing masks,” he says. “But that’s not the majority of people [at the protests]. That’s totally out of our control. We’re advocating that anyone who shows up, first and foremost, needs to keep themselves safe in the world of COVID.” 

Staff writer Story Hinckley contributed to this report from Richmond, Virginia.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

With science and shared values, Sweden charts own pandemic course

How do you best get citizens to comply with social distancing directives? In Sweden, there’s been an expectation of personal responsibility rooted in the country’s blend of individual freedom and collectivist values. 

Amelia
Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency/Reuters
People buy vegetables amid fences and signage placed to reduce congestion due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Möllevångstorget market square in Malmö, Sweden, on April 25, 2020

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

Sweden’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has focused on citizens taking personal responsibility – a source of pride for many in this Nordic society with a history of both collectivist values and individual freedom. But whether it is working is an open question – one that may not be in sufficient debate.

Decisions made by Swedish authorities have been science-based rather than political. Sweden has allowed businesses to stay open if they follow safety protocols such as placing tables far apart. At-risk populations have been requested to self-quarantine.

So far Sweden has about 19,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases – roughly the same per capita as neighboring Denmark, which has about half the population size and took a much stricter approach to quarantining. But Denmark has registered just under 450 deaths compared with Sweden’s nearly 2,300.

Swedish collectivism may be preventing public debate over whether those figures are low enough. When 22 Swedish experts in infectious diseases and epidemiology demanded that the government change course, they were met with a ferocious backlash.

“Historically in Sweden we have been a success story,” says Goran Rosenberg, a journalist and historian. That “has manifested into an uncritical trust in the authorities and a shaming of critics.”

Collapse

2. With science and shared values, Sweden charts own pandemic course

Sylvia Milchert spends most of her time tending to her blooming garden in a sleepy suburb of Stockholm since the coronavirus hit Sweden. The semi-retired psychologist takes precautions such as having food delivered to her home, but continues to see her grandchildren, albeit only outside, keeping a distance and skipping hugs.

It’s not quite business as usual in the suburb of Vallingby. But people still frequent cafes and the odd person can be seen at the gym. Like most Swedes, Ms. Milchert believes health authorities here have taken the right approach by not responding to the crisis with the strict lockdowns favored in the rest of Europe and trusting the population to do the right thing.

“It’s good to trust people to think for themselves,” she says, although her trust wavers when examining the toll this strategy has taken on older members of the Swedish community. “It’s impossible to accept that so many elderly people have died in such a rich country.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

As the novel coronavirus tears through the continent, Sweden has been an outlier in its response. It limits gatherings to 50 people but shops, cafes, and other businesses are open on condition that they follow safety protocols such as placing tables far apart. The elderly and at-risk populations have been requested to self-quarantine.

But whether that approach is working has been the subject of some debate in Swedish society. While the rate of reported infections in Sweden remains on a par with countries that have taken more extreme measures to protect their public, the death toll in Sweden is significantly higher. And some say that the societal norms that Sweden is relying on to ensure the public adheres to the government’s COVID-19 strategy may also be freezing out the kind of debate needed to examine whether the strategy is the right one.

Science over politics

The emphasis of Sweden’s response to the pandemic has been on citizens taking personal responsibility – a source of pride for many in this Nordic society with a history of endorsing both collectivist values and individual freedom.

Sweden promotes itself as being a model society based on values of social justice and human rationality, with a high level of trust between people and trustworthy authorities. This has its origins from the Social Democrat-introduced concept of “Folkhemmet,” or people’s home, where a welfare state cares for all with the proviso that everyone complies with a communal order.

Janerik Henriksson/TT News Agency/Reuters
People enjoy the sun at an outdoor restaurant, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, in Stockholm on March 26, 2020.

“When societies are under stress, national specificities come to the surface and influence decisionmaking,” says Lars Tragardh, a Swedish social historian and co-author of the book “Are Swedes Human?” “In our case, it is to listen to experts and voluntarily comply with their recommendations.”

Dr. Tragardh says decisions made by Swedish authorities have been science-based rather than political, unlike other countries. Sweden has a unique administrative structure when it comes to certain aspects of governance, one of them being health. It is written into the national constitution that Sweden’s public agencies are independent of the government. This is to ensure that decisions are made based on knowledge and that civil servants are not corrupted by politicking.

The Swedish response to the COVID-19 pandemic stands in sharp contrast with Nordic neighbors Finland and Denmark. Governments there were given similar advice from their health agencies, but they decided to shut down public life anyway.

So far Sweden has about 19,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases – roughly the same per capita as Denmark, which has about half the population size and took a much stricter approach to quarantining. But Denmark has registered just under 450 deaths compared with Sweden’s nearly 2,300. And Finland, which also has half Sweden’s population, has fared even better: less than 5,000 cases and fewer than 200 deaths.

Most of the fatalities have been in Stockholm, with nearly a third occurring in elder-care homes. In a press conference last week, Anders Tegnell, the state epidemiologist who is the mind behind Sweden’s policy, acknowledged “this our big problem area,” especially in light of past statements indicating that the main focus of the strategy was to protect the elderly.

Sylvia Melfeldt, who used to work in elder-care homes as a psychologist in the 1970s, believes that this is the result of the vast neo-liberalization of Sweden in the 1990s, which opened them up to competition between private firms.

“Now if you can afford it, you can get a better quality of private care. But if you can’t, you must make do with what your municipality provides,” says Ms. Melfeldt. “Carers are poorly paid, they have to see multiple people because they are paid by the hour, receive no training, and now have dwindling resources.”

Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/Reuters
Youth hang out at a skateboard park in Nacka, Sweden, on April 25, 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit immigrant majority communities particularly hard. Earlier this month, the country’s public health agency reported that people in Sweden with foreign backgrounds are disproportionately represented among those who need hospitalization.

That squares with the experience of Terez Kino, a resident of the city of Södertälje and member of its large population of Assyrian-Syriacs, an ethnic minority scattered across Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. She used to have five carers, all of immigrant background as well, who would come to her home and tend to her needs. Four are now sick at home with virus symptoms. Her elderly sister has also contracted the virus from her carers, and her brother recently died of the virus. Her son is now taking care of her.

“We always did our best here in Sweden, ever since we came in 1974,” says Ms. Kino, “but now we have been left behind.”

Dr. Carina King, an epidemiologist working in the Karolinska Institute who opposes the government policy, says the pandemic has impacted socioeconomic groups differently. “A lot of the strategy is based on cultural norms, the narrative that Swedes will follow the recommendations and trust the authorities.” But she says that does not take into account just how much the make-up of Sweden has changed.

“It’s a very fatalistic view”

It is not completely clear how Swedish society is taking the rising death toll. According to YouGov polls, trust in the public health authorities is now evenly split in Sweden. But other surveys like that of the center-left Aftonbladet newspaper indicates there has been an uptick in confidence in the authorities despite the rising fatalities, with 70% of those polled indicating that they continue to trust the government.

Nonetheless, there have been some vocal critics. Twenty-two Swedish experts in infectious diseases and epidemiology published a commentary in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter demanding that the government to take a different course of action.

Dr. Anders Vahine, one of the experts, a virology professor at the prestigious Karolinska institute, told the Monitor that their biggest concern is the cost in human lives and health of the Swedish strategy. “If you just accept people dying, then it’s a ‘que sera sera’ situation, it’s a very fatalistic view that you cannot interfere.”

But after ferocious public backlash, several of the experts have decided to step out of the debate despite their ongoing concern.

“In Sweden, there is this idea of ‘Jante Law’: If you go outside a social norm or criticize it, you will be castigated and frozen out,” explains Umut Özkırımlı, a political scientist who studies nationalism and is based in Spain and Sweden. “Sweden is about conformity and moderation.”

Goran Rosenberg, a journalist and historian, is alarmed at the waning national cohesion in the country. “I think historically in Sweden we have been a success story. And that has turned into a sort of nationalism – not like traditional nationalism, but a belief that since we have been good at welfare and so on, we must be right. And this nationalism has manifested into an uncritical trust in the authorities and a shaming of critics, calling them traitors.”

Mr. Rosenberg believes that if possible failures of the Swedish system are being exposed by the pandemic, that could result in questions being raised. “If the Swedish way of doing things is disproven and ... seen as broken in a way, it might result in a radical change in society.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Dr. Tragardh's name.

‘Liberty is essential’: A look inside the lockdown protests

In the U.S., views on the role of government, individuals, and social values in handling lockdowns vary regionally. This story looks at the challenges that have risen as competing forces have intensified. 

Amelia

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Like most United States cities in COVID-19 lockdown, Richmond, Virginia, is usually quiet. But on Wednesday last week, 12 blocks of a road leading to the Virginia state Capitol were gridlocked with honking, poster-waving cars. It was a protest calling for the reopening of the state’s economy – one of many in recent days.

“It’s time to let us work,” said one sign taped to a vehicle. “LIBERATE VIRGINIA!” said another.

The anti-lockdown protests began in Lansing, Michigan, and spread to Madison, Wisconsin, this weekend. Last week’s rally in Richmond offers a flavor of the frustration. There were elements of a Trump rally, but the purpose went beyond supporting the president, bringing together like-minded people to call for a change. “Was good to remember we’re not alone,” noted a Facebook post.

A recent YouGov/Yahoo News survey found that 60% of respondents oppose the protests. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, says the protests aren’t going to influence him. But the rally’s organizer isn’t expecting to go away. “I wanted this protest to be one and done,” he says. “But that’s not going to be the case.”

Collapse

3. ‘Liberty is essential’: A look inside the lockdown protests

One side of East Broad Street looked like many downtown roads across COVID-19 America: empty sidewalks, locked restaurants, a handful of cars.

But last Wednesday, the other side of the Richmond street – the lanes leading to the Virginia statehouse – had 12 blocks of bumper-to-bumper honking cars, with passengers waving posters out of sun roofs. The noise was so loud it was hard to hear anyone from three feet away, much less the social-distancing guideline of six.

It was a protest calling for the reopening of America’s economy – one of many such demonstrations in state capitals in recent weeks. Most are drive-by only, to stay within the new distancing of the COVID era.

“It’s time to let us work” reads one sign taped on the side of a vehicle. “LIBERATE VIRGINIA!” says another. “The state is not God” reads a third.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

“Operation Gridlock” began in Lansing, Michigan, on April 15, with rallies following across the country. This weekend, protesters thronged Madison, Wisconsin, in the latest installment. The Richmond protest offers a window into the mounting frustration and the motivations of those turning up to demand an end to lockdowns.

Overall, the American public does not appear to support the protesters. A YouGov/Yahoo News survey conducted from April 17 to 19 found that 60% of respondents opposed protests aimed at ending sheltering-in-place. Republicans as a group did not support them, either – a plurality of 47% of GOP respondents thought they were a bad idea, according to YouGov.

Opponents note that cases of the novel coronavirus haven’t peaked in many places, making the lockdown restrictions essential. Many also charge that the protests have been partly organized by conservative business interests.

But many attendees interviewed at #GridlockRichmond on April 22 seemed genuinely frustrated with the lockdown.

“We have a right to life and liberty and the government can’t infringe in that in the purpose of keeping us safe,” says Marisa Nance, a mother from nearby Glen Allen, Virginia, who circled the statehouse in a gray van with “Liberty is essential” written in scrolling cursive across the back window.

“[This is] a great opportunity to demonstrate to our kids what we’ve always taught them. As citizens we are responsible,” Ms. Nance adds.

Following Lansing

Perhaps unsurprisingly in today’s polarized America, this general frustration blended with an array of political issues that are important to the right, from supporting President Donald Trump to anger about gun control measures, giving the protest an overall air of a MAGA rally.

“We asked people to not fly the Trump flags, that we just wanted to open Virginia,” says David Britt, one of the rally organizers. But then he adds, laughing, “people are going to do what they want to do.”

Mr. Britt, who works in a mental health facility in Fairfax, Virginia, was growing more and more frustrated with the state’s stay-at-home lockdown after Governor Ralph Northam in mid-April extended it until at least June 10.

But it wasn’t until the anti-lockdown protest in Lansing that Mr. Britt started thinking about organizing something similar in Virginia. After a conference call with other interested friends and groups, he created the Facebook group “Reopen Virginia,” which soon grew to almost 400 members.

In some ways, the resulting protest resembled a MAGA rally not just in appearance, but in effect. Like Mr. Trump’s raucous gatherings, it seemed to become a visible way for like-minded conservatives to feel part of a larger movement.

After it was over, participants left comments and posts on Facebook groups run by “Reopen Virginia” to the effect of “was so great to see everyone yesterday,” and “Was good to remember we’re not alone.”

Still, at the rally itself many protesters didn’t cite support for the president among their reasons for protesting. They talked about friends who are struggling to pay their bills, or their kids who are struggling with learning from home.

The rules seem unfair and arbitrary, says Jenny Karnes, who drove almost six hours roundtrip from her home in Roanoke, Virginia, to participate in the protest after learning about it from her cousin on Facebook.

“You can go to Walmart, Target, gas stations, and it’s like nothing is happening with these big chain stores, but yet the hairdresser and small business owner have to shut down,” says Ms. Karnes. “It’s not fair for the others who don’t have a choice.”

Virginia shouldn’t have the same guidelines as a hotspot like New York, say protesters. Blanket restrictions for the state neglect economic anxieties and constitutional liberties, they added.

“We should look at places individually, even northern Virginia shouldn't be treated the same as us out here,” says Melissa Hipes, a protest participant from the small town of Greenville in western Virginia. "The devastation on the economy is going to end up being far worse than the virus.”

Right to live versus right to assemble

Vycki Midgette is a nurse from the eastern shore of Virginia who joined the 337-member Facebook group “Virginians Against Excessive Quarantine” at the invitation of a friend. She thought the group could benefit from a nurse’s perspective. She thinks the lockdown should continue as long as it takes to guard Virginians’ safety.

“My right to live is more important than your right to assemble,” says Ms. Midgette, who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and plans to support him again in 2020.

So far, Governor Northam, a Democrat, appears to agree with that assessment. He’s said the protests did not influence him. In recent days, he’s extended the time that state Department of Motor Vehicles offices will remain closed, among other things. Last Friday, he released a plan for beginning to open some businesses in early May – if new COVID cases and hospitalizations decline for 14 days.

Mr. Britt of “Reopen Virginia” says he is not deterred.

“I wanted this protest to be one and done,” he says. “But that’s not going to be the case.”

 Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Restless and ready to work, Georgia gets back to business

In Georgia, some answers to the question of how to ease out of a lockdown started appearing over the weekend. Among other things, prepare for the unexpected. And ‘don’t be mad at any one person.’ 

Amelia
Julio-Cesar Chavez/Reuters
Barber Tommy Thomas, who has been cutting hair for 50 years, gives his longtime customer Fred Bentley a haircut after the Georgia governor allowed a select number of businesses to open during the coronavirus restrictions in Atlanta April 24, 2020.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 7 Min. )

For starters, the restaurant will have about 300 seats, not the usual 700-plus. The breezes that blow through the screened-in windows will hopefully offer plenty of circulation. And all the servers, of course, will have masks and gloves. But make no mistake, The Crab Shack is preparing to open Monday.

After Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said businesses could start to reopen this weekend, the Peach State offered a taste of what America might look like when it emerges from its coronavirus lockdowns. “I’m excited and, yes, I’m nervous,” says the owner of The Crab Shack, capturing the atmosphere around Savannah.

Others are more cautious. Alonzo Wright Jr. knows Georgia has not yet met the guidelines laid out by the White House to safely lift stay-at-home orders. The state isn’t even close, really. And so when the decision to reopen his Beastmode Fitness came, he had a realization. He would clean. He would expand to create more space for social distancing. But he wouldn’t reopen, not yet.

“We closed down for a reason, and I haven’t seen enough change yet to reopen.”

Collapse

4. Restless and ready to work, Georgia gets back to business

One day the parking lot of Nottingham Plaza off Skidaway Road was empty – as it had been for nearly five long weeks of a pandemic lockdown.

Then the next day, on Friday, at 11:13 a.m., cars appeared – lots of them. “Like a regular summer day,” one shopkeeper observed.

This weekend, Georgia began rolling back stay-at-home coronavirus restrictions in hopes of restarting the U.S. economy. And Nottingham Plaza ZYS Hair Studio owner LaZharia Morris could palpably feel the stakes – for her customers, for her stylists, and for a thriving business she grew from the ground up.

As appointments flooded in, Ms. Morris scrambled to manage expectations and check off a list of requirements put out by the state cosmetology board. Hand-washing and mask-wearing would be required. Importantly, customers are being asked to sign a “hold harmless” waiver so that business owners can’t be sued if someone becomes ill.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Before long, she had to run to Walmart, out of printer ink. As customers flocked in, she realized she needed more waivers, more posters, more information.

Ms. Morris’ harried morning offers a glimpse into how America might begin to reemerge from isolation – hair askew, facing a world where the barber makes you sign a contract and where sit-down diners will, for the foreseeable future, be greeted by servers in masks and gloves.

The question is how quickly it should happen. In beginning to reopen, Georgia defied White House guidelines, which call for, among other things, declining COVID-19 cases for 14 days and a robust testing system. Georgia has neither.

But there are signs of restlessness in some parts of the country. In the South, other states are beginning to reopen. An anti-lockdown protest brought thousands to Madison, Wisconsin, this weekend. And in Southern California, some beaches were crowded.

In coastal Georgia, the mood was one of buzzy excitement. For Ms. Morris, this weekend marked a return to clarity and purpose after weeks of wandering through a kind of fog.

“My boyfriend is an entrepreneur, too – he owns a recording studio – and he was begging me not to reopen, but I told him, ‘I’ve got six ladies here who have mouths to feed and rents to pay.’ I’m not going to say the governor is stupid. We needed this. This virus isn’t going away. We have to learn to live with it at some point. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”

The decision is a controversial one, among some here and certainly in other parts of the United States. The concern is that the desire to return to something like normal could undo the gains made by social distancing.

Indeed, health officials say that until there is a vaccine or an effective means of treatment, social distancing is the only viable medical path. A study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington suggests Georgia should begin reopening after June 22.

“The ethical issue here isn’t a question of right and wrong – as it usually isn’t – but how do you balance two competing rights?” asks Paul Root Wolpe, a bioethicist at Emory University in Atlanta, referring to health and economic welfare. “We have to decide which one we’re going to favor – and when.”

“We’re just not ready”

Those choices are playing out on both sides at Nottingham Plaza. From the outside, it’s just another nondescript L-shaped strip mall on an urban fringe in America. But behind mirrored shop doors, whole worlds are coming back to life.

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Alonzo Wright Jr. sits on a bench at Beastmode Fitness, his Savannah, Georgia, gym, on April 24, 2020, the day hard-hit Georgia began to reopen select businesses amid the coronavirus crisis. Mr. Wright, however, is not opening yet. "Not enough has changed," he says. "We're not ready."

At 11:33 a.m. on Friday, all eight chairs are occupied at Fatou’s, an African hair-braiding shop. In the tattoo shop next door, A Fifth of Ink, the owner is cautiously reopening – by appointment only at first, but already with customers in chairs.

Yet as his plaza colleagues rush to open, Alonzo Wright Jr. raises his head as the front door opens at Beastmode Fitness, his gym.

“We’re closed. You got my number? Call me.”

He’s in touch with six local gym owners, and only one opened Friday. After preemptively closing his gym in March, Mr. Wright, newly married, moved into a new house. The idling hours were spent painting walls and otherwise nesting. The gym benches began gathering dust, and for weeks he didn’t care. But when GOP Gov. Brian Kemp “threw his curveball” last Monday, announcing that businesses could reopen Friday, Mr. Wright returned to the gym and had a realization.

He knew Georgia remained far behind on testing and setting up contact tracers to track the spread of the virus. He knew the tension between Mr. Kemp and federal guidelines, and the deadlier impact the virus has had on working-class African American communities. He had soaked up every news detail of the pandemic. Mayors, governors, and the president were openly bickering over a way forward. And here he was, faced with the question of reopening the country – by opening his gym.

“Welcome to life as a lab rat,” he thought.

As he looked around at the well-worn green carpeting, he saw what he must do: His trainers were already using Zoom and FaceTime to do one-on-one workouts. “I realized that this is something else. It requires bigger thinking.”

So he called in his trainer crew – “the muscle” – to start moving equipment around. The carpet is coming up, a deep clean commencing. And shortly after noon that day, Mr. Wright’s attorney appeared to start discussions about expanding the gym into a soon-to-be-vacant unit next door.

“Each person has to do what they think is right, knowing that you can’t be mad at any one person,” says Mr. Wright. “I also think that this is part madness. But if I’m speaking only for myself, we’re not opening the gym because we’re just not ready. We’re not ready.”

“We closed down for a reason, and I haven’t seen enough change yet to reopen,” he adds.

Such personal deliberations in part of Savannah point to similar deliberations nationwide. Polls released in recent weeks say Americans are wary of reopening too soon. But many American also say they can be responsible if shown a little more trust.

“This is us playing out over and over again – the inherent tension in the American psyche of not really being good at understanding and balancing collective sacrifice,” says Dr. Wolpe. “Yes, we do it in war and extreme situations. But what makes this so interesting is that we’re not sure how extreme this is.”

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Capt. Jack Flanigan, owner of the sprawling Crab Shack restaurant on Tybee Island, Georgia, peers at his open-air dining area on April 25, 2020, to inspect what he calls "a new start" for restaurants -- including cutting the capacity in half in order to allow for social distancing between dining groups. Still, the restaurant will be able to seat 300 at one time. Staff will wear gloves and masks as the restaurant opens for the first time in nearly six weeks at noon on Monday.

Scenes from a 300-seat restaurant

Some 20 miles from Nottingham Plaza, beneath sprawling canopies of live oak, power washers roar, glasses clink in dishwashers, people shout across parking lots and lean into truck windows to talk.

It is Saturday at 10:33 a.m., two days before the region’s largest restaurant, The Crab Shack, resumes dine-in service.

After nearly six weeks of being laid off, one server waves and grins as she reports for a deep-clean shift. “I am ready to work!” she shouts for all to hear. “Plus, I can’t take my wife anymore!”

Thirty years ago, Capt. Jack Flanigan, an offshore charter fisherman, turned a weekend crab boil at his fish camp dock on Chimney Creek into what became a 728-seat institution. The Crab Shack serves mounds of low-country boil – Old Bay-infused new potatoes, shellfish, sausage, corn hunks – amid moss-draped sunsets and clacking marsh hens. It is, as general manager Justin Fowler points out, “an experience as much as a meal.”

But what experience can The Crab Shack offer? As he readies to open at noon Monday, Mr. Fowler has halved the number of seats to about 300. Given that the restaurant is essentially a massive screened-in porch with breezes from the creek, “we’re hoping that will make people more comfortable,” he adds. Servers will be in masks and gloves.

Mr. Flanigan says he knows the importance of this decision.

“I’m excited and, yes, I’m nervous,” he says. “In one way, it feels like all of us are suddenly living in a petri dish. But I also know that we’ll survive. We’ll make it. It’s a new start for us, but we’re going to approach it the same way we always have: Let the customer tell us what they want.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Coronavirus conundrum: What do we do when nature gets crowded?

And then there's the question of much-needed outdoor activity. As officials consider how to adjust rules for now-crowded parks, the public’s mental well-being plays a big role.

Amelia

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 4 Min. )

Heidi Anderson was convinced that officials in Austin, Texas, were going to shut down the Butler hiking trail. She knows more about the trail than anyone, as CEO of The Trail Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and improving the path. And in places, the trail is too narrow to accommodate social distancing.

Yet the city did not shut it down. To the contrary, use of the trail grew from last year as Austin residents sought a refuge in the heart of the city, strolling among the wildflowers along Lady Bird Lake. And health officials don’t disagree with the decision.

At a time of stay-at-home orders, nature has been a crucial source of well-being for many Americans. But as these green spaces have become crowded, public health officials have had to consider the right balance. In Los Angeles, the city dumped sand in a skate park to stop people from congregating. But in general, many parks are staying open.

Says David Nieman, a biologist at Appalachian State University in North Carolina: “If everyone follows the guidelines, I think the benefits outweigh the risks.”

Collapse

5. Coronavirus conundrum: What do we do when nature gets crowded?

Michael Gately and his girlfriend used to go on walks a couple of times a week. Since they’ve been required to stay home because of the coronavirus pandemic, they’ve been going almost every day.

“It’s unquestionably the bright spot of my day,” he says. Although, he adds, “there’s not much else you can do right now.”

On a sunny Monday afternoon, he’s joined dozens of people who have spilled out of their homes onto the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, a popular 10-mile loop around Lady Bird Lake in the heart of Austin. The trail, like public parks around the city, has stayed open even as the rest of the city has locked down.

How long that will be the case, Mr. Gately doesn’t know. But judging by the crowds, and the narrowness of the trail at points, he says he’d understand if it is closed.

“Health officials have a real dilemma on their hands,” he says. “They want us out here, but at what cost?”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Austin is one of hundreds of cities across the country navigating this dilemma. With people confined to their homes, outdoor activity has become crucial to maintaining physical and mental health – and it’s also one of the only activities people can do outside their homes.

Around the world, those self-isolating have been surging into parks and onto trails. Yet in the age of social distancing, can crowded public spaces, even green ones, comply? Could closing them provoke a backlash that’s even more dangerous for public health? The issue has been a vexing one, and responses have varied.

In Britain, park closures have been threatened, but for the most part not implemented. In most Texas cities, parks have stayed open. In Los Angeles, city parks and beaches have closed. In New Jersey, all county and many city parks are closed. While in New York City – a COVID-19 hot spot right next door – Central Park has remained open.

The arguments to keep them open are compelling.

“No drug or supplements are as good as [physical] activity in helping the immune system do its job better,” says David Nieman, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State University in Kannapolis, North Carolina. He argues that public green spaces should be closed only as a last resort. 

“I put everything on a benefit-risk continuum,” he adds. “There are risks, yes, but if everyone follows the guidelines, I think the benefits outweigh the risks.”

The Quigleys may hike now

For parks that have remained open, a variety of rules have come in to keep users safe.

In New York City, Central Park’s leafy 843 acres are one of the few places where social distancing can be safely practiced. Staff with the Central Park Conservancy has been cleaning and maintaining benches, landscapes, and water bodies in the park.

In Dallas, use of the Katy Trail is being regulated alphabetically. For example, those with last names beginning with A through L should use the trail on Thursday and Saturday.

Tony Gutierrez/AP
Dallas marshals patrol along the Katy trail, as patrons, jog, ride bikes, and walk their dogs Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Texas is among the states weighing how best to balance the stress relieving effects of nature and exercise with a need for social distancing during the pandemic.

And in Austin, new rules include limiting parking spaces and having park rangers remind visitors of social distancing guidelines. Traffic on the Butler trail is now moving clockwise only.

“We assumed it would be closed by the city. It was decided they didn’t want to take that step yet,” says Heidi Anderson, CEO of The Trail Foundation, a nonprofit focused on protecting and improving the trail. “The trail doesn’t accommodate high traffic and allow for 6-feet distancing around the whole loop.”

But usage of the Butler trial increased from 134,000 people in March last year to 146,000 people in March this year. “We hear over and over again people use the trail not just for exercise but because it’s their church,” says Ms. Anderson.

Sand in skate parks

Green spaces have certainly been a blessing for Austin’s Megan Divvern. She’s working at a pharmacy while going to pharmacy school, and spending time outdoors “helps take your mind off things.”

She could make do walking around her apartment complex or the surrounding streets if the city decided to close parks. But she doesn’t think there’s too much risk keeping them open.

“I think that’s on people, on individuals, to keep their distance,” she says.

Cities have at times had to crack down. Parks and trails were closed in Asheville, North Carolina, last month after large groups were gathering in parking lots. And in Los Angeles, the city dumped sand in a shuttered skate park where locals kept gathering.

“If people can’t keep 6 feet apart because it’s so crowded, I agree at that point you just have to close it down,” says Dr. Nieman. “That’s why I encourage people to go at off-hours or [exercise] some other place. I’d encourage people to not [ruin] it for everyone else.”

Mr. Gately hopes it doesn’t come to that. “It’s so beautiful,” he says. “It’s a reminder we can still have positive experiences, even during a time like this.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Can I go out and play? After six weeks, Spain tells kids, ‘Sí.’

For weary Spaniards, children’s energy as they headed outside after a ban was lifted brought important hints of renewal. “It’s a city of children!” was the cry of one exuberant young girl on Sunday. 

Amelia
Courtesy of Elena Parreño
Maya Herrero plays on the street in Barcelona on her first official day outside since Spain's lockdown restrictions on children were lifted on Sunday, April 26.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 4 Min. )

On Sunday, Spain’s children got to do something they haven't been able to do for six weeks: Go outside.

The lifting of some of the most onerous restrictions in Europe not only provided kids with fresh air, but a much-needed break from the monotony of life indoors. Most families have coped by doing schoolwork, activity circuits, or increasing screen time.

The desire to protect the small in the hard-hit country was understandable, parents say, but children are less likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than seniors. Denying them fresh air felt punitive, especially in cities where small apartments without balconies are the norm.

Elena Parreño says her 7-year-old daughter Maya has been waking up with nightmares since the lockdown began.  

On Sunday, Ms. Parreño took Maya out to Rollerblade along the mostly empty streets of Barcelona.

“It was awesome!” says Ms. Parreño. “She skated for an hour. We never stopped moving. On her way home, she was actually tired … and went to bed before 11 p.m. for the first time since the lockdown started.”

Collapse

6. Can I go out and play? After six weeks, Spain tells kids, ‘Sí.’

The last time 8-year-old Cecilia Pagliotta played outside, it was still blustery winter in León.

But on Sunday, the trees lining the streets were full of green leaves; flowers blossomed. Children spilled across the riverbank of this northern Spanish town, some with bikes, others with Rollerblades.

“It’s the city of children!” Cecilia exclaimed to her father, Marcel, who took her out for a walk along the riverbank, greeting friends – at a distance – along the way.

Cecilia, like the rest of Spain’s children, finally went outside on Sunday for the first time in 43 days. Since March 14, kids have been shuttered indoors, subject to the most restrictive coronavirus lockdown measures in Europe. Next to Italy, Spain has been the hardest-hit by the coronavirus in Europe, with more than 23,500 people having died so far.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

The desire to protect the small and vulnerable would be understandable, parents say, but children are less likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than seniors. Denying them fresh air and an outlet for pent-up energy felt unnecessarily punitive, especially in cities where small apartments without balconies are the norm. Confusion over who qualified as a “child” also didn’t help, with cooped-up 15- to 17-year-olds suddenly hearing last week from the government that they could have been outside, at least to run errands, all along.

But despite the monotony and mounting outrage, the six-week confinement may not have the long-term consequences that many parents fear.

“Children are generally more resilient and flexible than adults,” says Catherine L’Ecuyer, a researcher in childhood development based in Barcelona. The exception would be households that are already struggling, either financially or emotionally. “Children are more at risk if they belong to households where the parents are depressed or anxious. Children tend to use their principle caregiver as a basis for exploration and to reproduce the mental state of adults.”

And while normalcy still feels light years away, Spanish families say they will continue to draw on patience and creativity as they adjust to their new normal.

“For sure, my kids are feeling that something is wrong … they have their own fears and worries,” says Marcel Pagliotta, father to Cecilia and her 13-year-old brother Aldo. “We’ve tried to explain the situation since the beginning. We should learn as much as possible from all of this.”

For parents of young children, the ability to go out and play spells immeasurable relief. For the past six weeks, they’ve had to entertain and educate their children, as well as manage the psychological repercussions of lockdown. Elena Parreño says that her 7-year-old daughter Maya has been waking up with nightmares.  

On Sunday, Ms. Parreño took Maya out to Rollerblade along the mostly empty streets and visited her nearby school.

“It was awesome!” says Ms. Parreño. “She skated for an hour. We never stopped moving. On her way home, she was actually tired … and went to bed before 11 p.m. for the first time since the lockdown started.”

The new measures have not only provided kids with fresh air, but a much-needed break from the monotony of life indoors. Most families have coped by doing schoolwork, exercise or activity circuits, or increasing screen time.

“I’m bored at home almost all the time,” says Claudia Millan 11, who lives with her parents and 6-year-old brother in Bailén, in southern Spain, “except when I’m playing on my phone or with my pet mouse.”

Even with the newly relaxed measures, some aspects of lockdown life are bound to continue for the time being. Not having school means families have had to adjust. Francisco Millan is working longer hours to keep his small business afloat. His wife, Manuela, works at a supermarket and is stressed that her job may expose her family to disease.

“Sometimes the kids have to be home alone for up to three hours at a time – it’s the only way we could make our schedules work,” says Mr. Millan. “Before the lockdown, they had never been home alone.”

Teenager Daniela Alonso, a nationally-ranked swimmer in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, has gone from training 20 hours per week to doing burpee challenges alone in the living room and homework with classmates via video chat. At 15, Daniela isn’t allowed outside for exercise until May 2, when Spain relaxes lockdown measures for adults.

“I’ve been a little anxious and stressed because at this time last year, we were already training on the beach, having fun with friends,” says Daniela. “Right now, it’s sunny all day, and all I want to do is go out and run and breathe fresh air.”

For Aldo Pagliotta, Cecilia’s older brother, lockdown hasn’t been too much of a grind. He’s been using the extra time at home to read classic books, learn dialects, and make burgers for his family.

And while he went for a walk Sunday with his mother, the teen was not overly excited by the prospect of hanging out with the same person he’s been stuck inside with for six weeks.

“Of course I’m excited that now I can go out,” says Aldo. “But I’d rather be playing handball with my teammates.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Other headline stories we’re watching

(Get live updates throughout the day.)

The Monitor's View

Crash course in civics to end a pandemic

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

The global challenge from COVID-19 has placed a special burden on democracies. They must rely on citizens being able to understand how their leaders operate as well as their own role in the crisis. In the United States, for example, rules on social distancing have made voting difficult. Another concern is the potential erosion of privacy.

Such issues require thoughtful public discussions with careful attention from informed citizens. Yet in a worrisome sign of the civic maturity in the U.S., a new survey shows a large majority of eighth grade students are still unable to comprehend the basics of democracy. Fewer than one-quarter are “proficient” in civics education, such as understanding the rights and duties of citizens. 

In shoring up public health with public consent, a well-informed citizenry is not only necessary, it can also spread the ideals of liberty and self-governance to countries where there are none.

Collapse

Crash course in civics to end a pandemic

The global challenge from COVID-19 has placed a special burden on democracies. They must rely on citizens being able to understand how their leaders operate as well as their own role in the crisis. The pandemic severely tests democracies, says German Chancellor Angela Merkel, because it “restricts exactly the things that make up our existential rights.”

In the United States, for example, rules on social distancing have made voting difficult in state primaries. The November elections could be significantly affected. Yet the challenges go even deeper: How far can elected officials go to end the coronavirus threat, such as closing down much of the economy? Exactly where do responsibilities lie between the president, Congress, governors, state legislatures, mayors, and so on?

Another concern is the potential erosion of privacy. Techniques to trace where the virus may have spread involve tracking the movements of individuals and who they have associated with. This could include collecting data from cell phones. Should citizens allow trade-offs that reduce their privacy but help reduce the disease’s spread? Some privacy advocates worry that once a government uses such intrusions it may be reluctant to give them up.

These questions require thoughtful public discussions with careful attention from informed citizens. Yet in a worrisome sign of the civic maturity in the U.S., a new survey shows a large majority of eighth grade students are still unable to comprehend the basics of democracy. Fewer than one-quarter are “proficient” in civics education, such as understanding the rights and duties of citizens, according to a report in April from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

American eighth graders in fact have made no progress since the last time the test was administered in 2014. “In a moment when our society is discussing what government should and can do amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we clearly see the value of a strong civics education,” said Patrick Kelly, a government and politics teacher in Columbia, South Carolina, and a member of NAEP’s governing board.

One ray of light: The half of eighth graders who reported having taken a class focused mainly on civics and U.S. government scored higher than those who said they hadn’t taken such a class. Only eight states now require high school students to take a full year of civics classes, according to a study by Education Week in 2018.

The federal government spends heavily on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, in an effort to prepare students for today’s workplace. Even a tiny fraction of that money spent in support of civics education could yield big dividends as well.

State and local governments have their role, too. In Rhode Island, for example, a bipartisan bill under consideration called the Civic Literacy Act would require all students to complete a year-long course in civics and government somewhere between the 8th and 12th grades.

Literacy in civics plays another role. Autocratic leaders around the world are using the pandemic as an excuse to increase their control. The world’s democracies must demonstrate how effective action during a public health emergency need not result in permanent restrictions on individual freedoms.

In shoring up public health with public consent, a well-informed citizenry is not only necessary, it can also spread the ideals of liberty and self-governance to countries where there are none.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Healed during swine flu pandemic

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 3 Min. )

Upon receiving a diagnosis of swine flu, a woman found that turning to God brought calm instead of fear – and quick healing ensued.

Collapse

1. Healed during swine flu pandemic

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
Loading the player...

About 10 years ago, a swine flu or H1N1 outbreak was all over the news. One day, I wasn’t feeling great all of a sudden. As a student, I was required to be tested for this illness because of the nature of the symptoms I was experiencing. The test came back positive for swine flu.

I followed the protocol I was given, staying by myself for a while. During this time alone, I realized I had a choice: I could mentally freak out, or I could pray about this. I’d experienced before how helpful, calming, and healing it can be to turn to God, so I chose the latter.

This was not about positive thinking or willful prayer. It was a humble listening, a desire to understand and accept what I had been learning in Christian Science about the nature of God as all good. In light of that, I understood that God created each one of us, His children, as the very expression of divine goodness.

That goodness cannot be taken away, and no evil can influence God’s spiritual offspring, because God is All, the only legitimate cause or power. The Bible says, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31) and “Whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it” (Ecclesiastes 3:14).

The whole concept that God created all and made everything unchangeably good can feel challenging to accept in times of tribulation. But the Bible also has these words of encouragement from Christ Jesus: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

This points to the idea that there is good going on right now, at every moment. There’s value in letting that spiritual good magnify in our thought, instead of focusing only on the bad things we are fearing. As God’s creation, we are made free from fear. When frightening situations present themselves, we can affirm this to be true about ourselves and let God’s healing love bring us the comfort and peace of yielding to what is spiritually true.

That was the gist of my prayers, and I felt that divine peace and comfort firsthand, lifting my fear. The symptoms disappeared more quickly than was usually expected and did not return.

When illness seems prevalent, we can often find ourselves caught up in “what ifs.” Affirming the spiritual facts about everyone’s true identity as God’s forever safe, spiritual child is helpful. This truth applied in prayer has wonderful benefits; it can assuage fear, protect, and heal. That’s what I experienced: Quiet, prayerful listening for God’s inspiration removed the fear and mental disturbance. I found I could be calm in tribulation, and experience healing, too.

We don’t have to go through a scary situation to know our safety in God. But whatever the circumstance, we all can turn to God and feel this freedom. God is here for us, today and every day.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all the Monitor's coronavirus coverage is free, including articles from this column. There's also a special, free section of JSH-Online on a healing response to the coronavirus. No paywall for any of this coverage.

Viewfinder

Welcome back

Hakon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/Reuters
Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg learns greeting techniques from students Celine Busk and Rim Daniel Abraham during her visit to Ellingsrudasen school in Oslo, Norway, April 27, 2020. After six weeks of remote learning, many of Norway's primary schools reopened on Monday.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for starting your week with us. Tomorrow our video series, “Precedented,” will focus on what we can learn from previous economic crises. We’ll also have an in-depth report on five major ways the coronavirus will change life in the United States.

More issues

2020
April
27
Monday

Give us your feedback

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

 
of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.