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Virginia National Guard response to the COVID-19 pandemic (photo by Joseph Siemandel)
States of Exception

Pandemic, Pandemonium, and Public Health: Reflections on COVID-19

This second “flash” symposium seeks to continue our discussion on COVID-19, but from a broader, public angle.

“In tribulation no man has leisure to hear: attend, when it is well with you; hear, when it is well with you; learn, when you are in tranquility, the discipline of wisdom…” Never have these words from St. Augustine’s 42nd homily rung truer. In times of trouble, or pandemic, there is not time to learn new things or enact new ways of living; we must respond and react with what we know and do our best in these unprecedented times.

While pandemics are not new to humanity, the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions on financial, economic, public health, and quotidian life not only nationally but globally is unprecedented. What we have learned in the times without pandemic, we must now use and improvise in an as near to totalizing effort as most of the current generations have ever seen to stymie the spread of the virus. Many companies like Anheuser-Busch are halting production of beer to make hand sanitizer, while luxury brands like Nordstrom and Dior scramble to make PPE for healthcare workers. Even Ford and GM have joined the effort to help build ventilators.

With this full effort from many companies and many individuals who continue to follow shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders are going on, many are left wondering how they will pay their rent, how they will buy food, or if their small businesses will survive the shutdown that continues. Even though there is a narrative of all banding together, some still wish to say that this virus is not a problem. Some states have reopened their beaches, while several groups of citizens, most notably in Kentucky and Michigan have protested continued shutdowns. Even as some countries that have relaxed their social distancing standards are once again seeing upticks in the number of reported cases.

This pandemic has shone a light on the deep injustices that many have faced and continue to face to live life. From the repeated calls for COVID-19 data to include ethnicities, stories about the elderly and immunocompromised too afraid to go to the store, and the projections that more people than have been counted have probably died of COVID-19, the unjust fault lines of our society are now more apparent than ever.

This second “flash” symposium seeks to continue our discussion on COVID-19, but from a broader, public angle. John Gonzalez, Director of Parish and Community Relations for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Brooklyn, offers a glimpse of what working on the front lines of Catholic Charities in New York City is like. He reminds us that COVID-19 is deeply affecting the impoverished in the city who are unable to secure the basic necessities and are forced to watch loved ones die without healthcare.

Jason Chen, Clinical Bioethics Fellow at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, provides guidance for clinicians and ethicists forced to ration scarce resources. Bioethicists and hospitals are working very hard to figure out protocols that are fair, avoid biases, and offer the best chance of survival to all infected but sometimes difficult choices must be made. Economist Bonnie Wilson reminds us that the economy has been and will be affected by COVID-19, but that the economy can be rebuilt while injustice and the potential for spreading infection ought to be our main concern.

Further contributions include essays from Jeffrey Bishop, the Tenet Endowed Chair in Health Care Ethics at Saint Louis University, who writes about theism as the best response to the problematics created by the secular humanisms that govern the world. Brett McCarty, Associate Director of the Theology, Medicine, and Culture Initiative at Duke Divinity School, offers a meditative piece on practices of care while remaining in the middle space where we currently find ourselves as we await new forms of life to emerge post-pandemic.

Symposium Essays

“This is not a time for indifference”: The face of NYC social ministry in the midst of COVID-19

By the end of that first week our operations shifted and many of our staff, including myself, were set up in a senior center in Queens getting ready to boost our food distributions and our senior grab-and-go grocery bags. During that week we began to anticipate two major developments of this pandemic: the public health crisis and the ensuing economic hardship.

Don’t Fall for False Tradeoffs

From an economic perspective, what we are all experiencing is as simple as it is painful: what we are experiencing is the voluntary and forced breaking down of the relationships we rely on to flourish as social creatures.

Why We Should Prioritize Treating Younger Patients

It is consistent to say that everyone is equally intrinsically valuable by virtue of being human, and that death will deprive more future well-being from some. Focusing on the deprivation of future well-being will immediately bring up concerns.

Unexpected Guides in a World Undone

Attending, caring, and listening may seem like small practices in light of the monumental challenges we face today. But it is through this everyday work that we are to discern and pursue a new common life.

Imagining the (Theological) Whole

There is no social location from which an understanding of the whole can emerge, let alone a social location from which wisdom can emerge. How shall we avoid nihilism? I look to the hills, from whence shall come our salvation?