The World Health Organization announced yesterday that COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, is officially a global pandemic. Over 100,000 cases of the disease are confirmed in 114 different countries. A sickness we do not yet have the ability to immunize against or cure is going to move through communities around the world. The only question is how fast—and whether it will overwhelm local health systems and their capacity to care for the sick.
A few things we know: older adults are most vulnerable to COVID-19, with nearly 1 in 5 dying in areas that have been hit hardest. And this: countries like Singapore and Japan, which have been most successful in mitigating the spread of the virus, have done so by taking immediate action to limit person-to-person contact at the community level. From everything we know, the best way to love our neighbors in the midst of this pandemic is to limit contact, cancel all public gatherings where the virus can spread quickly through normal social interactions, and practice good sanitation in our homes.
This morning I’ve been praying about what it means for us to continue to make surprising friendships possible in this moment. I’m moved by stories from Italy, where elderly people have had to self-quarantine, even when they are not sick, in order to ensure they do not contract the virus. The Sant’Egidio community there has been organizing healthy young people, whose risk level is relatively low, to deliver essential items to elder’s homes and check in with them by phone or other electronic means.
Given the lack of information we have about the extent of the coronavirus’ spread in the US, it is possible that within a week communities in the US could be in a similar situation. We need to begin now cultivating the kind of friendships we will need in our communities to survive such an outbreak. So I’m writing to encourage you to do that in your community today.
In our area (Durham, NC), we have set up a simple registration system for young people who are willing to be paired with an elder in the community as we develop plans to respond to people’s needs here. Maybe you’ll consider doing the same in your context. In uncertain times like these, our experience of beloved communities where people step-up to take care of one another gives me hope. Praying with you even now that we will have the faith and patience to build the surprising friendships we always need.
Editor’s Note: If you are aware of any efforts to build surprising friendships and care for neighbors happening in your area as the virus spreads, tell us about it in the comments, that we may spur one another on in love during these uncertain times. This message originally appeared in a Schools for Conversion newsletter.