Faith in the Age of the Virus

Dr. Wes Wallace, Adjunct Professor of Emergency Medicine at the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


A Statement from Dr. Wes Wallace on COVID-19

The new corona virus disease, COVID-19 is a threat to our community. Events in China, Italy and now Washington state have shown that this disease can explode from a few identified cases to an epidemic with breathtaking speed. The percentage who will die from COVID-19 is uncertain, but even at the lower estimates, given the number of us who will likely become ill, it will be wrenching, especially if we fail to act prudently.

Our best hope for decreasing the impact of this disease is to slow the rate of its transmission by practicing social distancing.  If we allow the natural course of this viral epidemic to unfold, the number of infected persons will increase with ferocious, even logarithmic speed.  Hospitals and health care workers will be overwhelmed and lifesaving care will have to be rationed — even to those with non-viral illness. If we use social distancing to slow transmission of COVID-19, patients will arrive at hospitals at a much slower rate, and lifesaving treatment for the critically ill will remain available.  Additionally, we will be given more time to manufacture protective gear for health care workers, do research that may lead to identification of effective medicines, and perhaps experience a seasonal decline in disease transmission rates.

For social distancing to be effective, it must begin early—so early that it may feel unneeded and silly.  If we wait until its need is obvious, it is too late.

The faith community has an important role to play in slowing the speed of disease transmission. Large gatherings of people are a petri dish for spreading the infection. For a period of time, I strongly urge our religious communities to suspend traditional services and gatherings and find other ways to practice and sustain our faith.  Our witness and our example may save many lives, especially the lives of those at risk in our own congregations.

Dr. Wes Wallace is adjunct professor of emergency medicine at the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  He is medical director of State Medical Assistance Team 2, based at the University of North Carolina and a medical officer in NC-1, the federal Disaster Medical Assistance team based in North Carolina. He is a member of University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill.

A Statement from Chapel Hill Clergy on COVID-19

As religious communities, we are entrusted with the temporal and spiritual care of our neighbors. The past week has brought rapid developments in the news about COVID-19. We do not know what the full scope of this pandemic will be, but as people of faith we have an obligation to operate in the best interest of the wider community, especially on behalf of those most vulnerable.

On Thursday morning, March 12th a group of clergy met to discuss an appropriate, unified response that our respective faith communities might make in response to this ever-changing situation. Dr. Wes Wallace from the UNC School of Medicine joined us as one who is working on the state and federal levels to generate responses related to this disaster. In short, Dr. Wallace explained that while there is much to learn about COVID-19, at this point in time the most important thing we as a community can do is minimize the spread of this disease through effective social distancing.

Out of our common conviction, the Chapel Hill faith communities listed below have decided to suspend corporate worship and larger gatherings in order to slow the rate of COVID-19 transmission and support the work of our medical community. In two weeks’ time, we will reevaluate this suspension and determine next steps. In these days of uncertainty, we are grateful for the courage, wisdom, and common witness of our ecumenical and interfaith community.

Kehillah Synagogue
United Church of Chapel Hill
Chapel of the Cross, Episcopal
Church of the Holy Family, Episcopal
Amity United Methodist Church
Christ United Methodist Church
University United Methodist Church
Love Chapel Hill
University Presbyterian Church
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
Binkley Baptist Church
University Baptist Church

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