More Frequently Asked Questions about Covid-19

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

 16      Cats and Pets – COVID-19

Q: Can cats and pets be infected with coronavirus-19; if so, can they give it to humans?

          A: To create an infection, virus particles must first multiply in great numbers within cells of the host.  Each virion does this in cells specific to a species.  Thus, birds that inhale polio virus do not get polio; cows do not get mumps.  Distemper virus does not infect humans.  Coronavirus-19 is genetically programmed to enter human cells.  Distemper virus is genetically limited to cats and dogs.  However, viruses are known to mutate.  It is generally assumed that coronavirus-19 originated in bats.  The current pandemic probably began in China as a mutation from the virus that specifically attacks bats into one that is specific to humans.  That mutated virion in a human multiplied and infected one or more additional people and our current pandemic was born.

The CDC on April 22, 2020 provided guidance on managing pets that may have COVID-19.  Two cats with this disease had just been confirmed!  They are the first pets in the United States to test positive for coronavirus-19.  Both cases, in different locations in New York state, had mild cases and are recovering.  One had no contact in the household with any human testing positive for coronavirus-19.  The other showed symptoms after a person developed COVID-19.  Two questions remain under investigation by CDC: were the cats infected by humans?  And can an infected cat give the disease to humans?  Could it be that a mutation of the coronavirus-19 may have occurred and infected a cat?  Might this contagion be spreading unnoticed among cats that are allowed outside to freely roam about?

Given the very rare occurrence of pets being infected, the CDC concluded, “…there is no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus in the United States.  Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals that may compromise their welfare.”

The CDC recommends that  “until more is known,

  • Do not let pets interact with pets and animals of other people outside the household.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
  • If you are sick with COVID-19, either suspected or confirmed by a test, restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would around other people.
  • When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.
  • If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.”

 

17. How long before we get back to normal? 

Q: Given the importance of testing and other guidelines issued by the president of the United States, how long must we remain in “stay-at-home” and “keep-your-distance” status?

The US initially ignored the WHO’s fully developed diagnostic testing for the presence of the virus, and instead used the CDC to develop its own testing system.  After weeks of delay, this test was introduced and found to not provide valid results.  It was removed from use.  The decision was then made to ask the private sector to develop alternative diagnostic tests.  By late April, 115 laboratories had submitted proposals for FDA review.  Each has been allowed to offer their tests having “self-verified” the validity of results.  Of these, 11 labs have now been authorized after the FDA verified the test validity.  111 labs are still pending this FDA authorization.

At the end of April, the FDA reports there are no authorized tests for the presence of antibodies.  Many of the tests being used have shown false positive and false negative results.  These cannot accurately identify a person’s existence of antibodies.   Science dictates that valid testing is a preliminary requirement before any jurisdiction should begin to open up.  The FDA has published a list of all the laboratories in each state that governors can turn to for testing.  But governor Cuomo of New York articulated the problem to national authorities:  Many separate labs use different manufacturers’ products.  Each propriety system has its unique testing supplies and reagents.  To ramp up for the millions of tests required, no manufacturer has the ability to provide supplies in that quantity.  Thus, expectations for testing are limited by the supply chains required.   Delays in testing further extend the time to when ending of the existing program of isolation can be predicted.

Recently, a new and conflicting strategy has been imposed: “Liberate (name a state)!”  This economic “Open up early” strategy serves the objective of limiting the damage to the economy by quickly getting people back to work.  Science predicts that opening up too early will only create a new wave of infected people, requiring a longer future period of staying at home.  But a public momentum of expectation to return to normal has now been created.

Add to all this the latest discovery about COVID-19 as a factor that must be investigated.  The World Health Organization is now reporting that “There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.”   More study is needed.  Does the severity of the disease indicate the point where immunity is provided?  How does this finding affect the eventual development of a vaccine that encourages antibody development in healthy individuals granting them immunity?  The third phase of testing of a vaccine leading to its approval is a clinical trial showing it creates immunity.

Conflicting expectations leads to unpredictability.  Perhaps the wiser choice is to not get hopes up too high, but to follow the science as it develops answers to the problems at hand.

Again, “Being patient is better than being a patient!”

Today, there are two conflicting strategies at play. Protecting the public health and recovering the economy.  In public health, one tracks contacts of an infected person and orders those contacts into quarantine to stop the spread of the disease.  Without testing to identify individuals that are infected, the strategy was initially taken to “quarantine” the entire populace – “stay at home, and social distancing.”

 

18. Reading a graph.

Q: When reading a graph that shows we are “flattening the curve, how come the line stays steady even though the number of cases is declining?

A: There are two types of graphs used to report COVID-19 data.  The combined or total information and the daily statistics.  In the combined graph, the vertical height of each entry includes all the previous data with the new data added from the previous entry.  Thus, a point showing 100 cases the day before with 10 new cases would be shown as 110.  Over the next several days with no new cases, the points would remain at 110 showing a level or flat line.  Future entries will always include past cases.  This graph is often used to illustrate the acceleration as the case load increases exponentially over time.

The other daily graph is the vertical point showing the reported cases for each day in progression.  In this graph, one can visualize the daily increase and decrease in cases over time, at the point of highest volume, the apex is shown with daily totals then displaying a future decline in cases.  This is the graph often used to predict and display when hospital resources are being stretched and later relieved.

In conversation, people tend to use a general “The graph show…”  It helps to better understand the data by knowing what type of graph it is.

19. Herd immunity

Q: What is herd immunity?

A: Herd immunity is the point where enough people in a population have developed immunity to significantly reduce the spread of the disease by contagion.  This immunity is achieved by those surviving the disease generating antibodies.  It can also be achieved by receiving a vaccination, when one is available.  Estimates for herd immunity from COVID-19 range between 60% and 80% of a population.  One social experiment is now underway in Sweden.  The policy has been adopted that there will not be a shut down of the economy by issuing universal stay at home orders.  Sweden has a current population of 10,086,000.  In this pandemic, there have been 18,640 reported cases of COVID-19 with 2,200 reported deaths, a 12% case fatality rate.  Contrast this with neighboring Norway: population of 5,413,800 with a reported 7,600 cases and a reported 201 deaths, a case fatality rate of 2.7%.

Even though schools, stores, restaurants, bars, and retail establishments remain open, and cloth face coverings are not required, recent visitors have reported that many people are observing social-distancing and taking many of the personal protective actions.  Protective measures have been implemented to protect the elderly and the sick.

The actual number of those having recovering from the disease may be far greater than that reported.  A conservative 60% of the population needed to gain herd immunity by being vaccinated or contracting the disease would be 6 million people.  At the current case fatality rate, without a vaccine being available, would result in over 720,000 additional deaths.  Time will tell, but this appears too great a price to pay for not locking down as the rest of the world is doing.

20. Symptoms of COVID-19

Q: What are the currently defined signs and symptoms of COVID-19?

A: Originally, CDC defined three symptoms defining that a person might have COVID-19:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing

Late in April, the CDC added 6 additional symptoms to the list making 9 indicators that a person might have COVI-19:

  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing (or shortness of breath)

Or at least two of the following:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

CDC guidance continued with a list of emergency warning signs indicating a person should call 911:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

When calling 911, notify the operator that you have or think you may have COVID-19, and put on a cloth face covering before medical help arrives.

MOre Covid-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

 

11      Q: What is the best way to sanitize money?

          A:  The consensus is that money is not an important vector of infection for coronavirus-19!  Each sub-microscopic virus particle, called a virion, is 1/10,000 of a millimeter wide.  This is so small it can only be seen using an electron microscope.  If a virion had eyes, which of course it doesn’t, it would find dollar bills quite porous – a honeycomb of spaces between fibers.  There is a greatly reduced concentration of virus on the top surfaces for humans to carry to their mouth, nose or eyes.  In addition, bills placed in ATM machines, have been counted and sorted by machine, and moved in large stacks, greatly minimizing the surfaces any aerosoled virus would contact.

The NIH has defined the viability of virus on cardboard (and paper) as lasting up to 24 hours, and on hard metallic surfaces for up to 3 days.

For people who want to be extremely over-cautious, use a hand sanitizer before and after placing bills into wallets and purses or simply set them safely aside and leave them there for a few days.

For coins, consider leaving them at the store as change for use by others.  If metallic coins are brought home, consider disinfecting them using a bleach solution (1/3 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water).

Again, it is important to stress the consensus: money is not an important vector of infection for COVID-19. 

 

12      Q: What is the controversy about using an approved drug to treat COVID-19?

          A:  Hydroxychloroquine is also known by the brand name Plaquenil.  It is an established, approved prescription for treatment of malaria and some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases.  Laboratory testing has indicated the possibility of effectiveness against COVID-19.  But Deborah Birx, MD of the president’s task force has publicly stated that efficacy in test tubes doesn’t mean it will work in humans.

Small human studies in China and France showed conflicting results.   One showed a “good prognosis” and the other showed “no evidence of rapid antiviral clearance or clinical benefit.”  Yet, president Trump repeatedly promotes this medication as a “game-changer.”  On April 3, 2020, the FDA issued an “emergency use authorization” (EUA) for trial testing of the drug as a last resort treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Cited in this EUA are several contraindications including the presence of vision and heart abnormalities, and abnormal liver or kidney functions.

In spite of additional doses of the drug being manufactured for this testing,  there are now shortages available for traditional treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus patients.  Test results have yet to be evaluated.  Politicians have falsely stated this testing “has given good results,” “and even can be used to prevent the disease in hospital workers.”  These are false conclusions because testing is limited to “last resort” use on patients who are near death.  Scientists and experts encourage everyone to wait until clinical trials are over and facts are known.

 

13      Q:  For some time now there has been a promise that a vaccine will be available in from 12 to 18 months.  When did this period start? When can we expect it to be available?

          A  The development of a vaccine for COVID-19 must go through three separate phases of clinical development before it can be approved.  Each requires a minimum time to be completed.  If any negative findings emerge within a step, additional time will be needed to rectify the problems found.

The clock has already started.  Many countries are separately at work to identify treatment and vaccination products.  Any vaccination safely replicates the disease in an individual leading to their immune system generating specific antigens that would be available if the virus later infects the person.

The first challenge is identifying that the trial vaccine is safe.  Can it introduce the disease in a healthy individual without actually infecting them?

The next challenge is to determine if the trial vaccine generates the requisite antigens.

The third phase involves thousands of people given the trial vaccine and evaluating them over months to determine if immunity is actually provided before it is then approved.

Only then will production of the trial vaccine be undertaken over time to produce the hundreds of millions of doses required for the public to receive it.

 

  1. Q: It is widely assumed that someone who has recovered from COVID-19 has immunity and could later safely return to work.  Is this true?

A:   A mid-April finding by the World Health Organization (WHO) puts this assumption in doubt!  Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, who is the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, stated that recent findings evaluating immunity suggest different immunity levels exist from previously infected patients.  “Right now, we don’t have a full picture of what immunity looks like,” Dr. Van Kerkhove said.  “And until we do, we can’t give a complete answer.”

Many of the serology tests being developed are pinprick blood tests that measure raised levels of antibodies used in the body to fight against the virus.  It is now reported there is no evidence that this testing can effectively determine levels of immunity in the population.  “These tests will be able to measure the level of antibodies, but that does not mean that somebody with antibodies is immune.”

And with the lack of a coordinated federal program for testing, many companies are selling testing kits that are not approved by the FDA!  It is suggested that many such kits are giving false negative results – people are identified with antigens that in fact they do not have.

These findings raise questions on developing a safe vaccine that provides immunity.  It cautions that groups should not rush to return to normal assuming those with antibodies can safely return to work.  To do so before science verifies the level of immunity may place these people at risk of suffering a second attack of COVID-19.

Scientists are working now to study this issue of immunity before any vaccine reaches that third phase of testing.

15      Q: I saw something on the Internet that said hair dryers could be used to destroy live virus on objects and surfaces.  Is this true?

  1. There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet and social media.  Hair dryers and several herbs to destroy the virus or reduce the chance of infection are among these.  There are also many scams trying to feed on people’s fears to make money.  Private sale of face masks guaranteed to filter COVID-19 and specific foods and “medicines” guaranteed to prevent symptoms all can be bought with “free delivery” offered as an incentive

Some sites are even falsely using the CDC emblem or logo to mislead the unwary.  Double check any information before you decide to either make purchases, give credit card information, or practice the recommended activities.  For example, one can Google “What is the CDC guideline for using hair dryers?”  After looking at several sites that don’t identify such a guideline, you will actually find one that states this rumor comes from as an unauthorized video and suggests this advice should not be followed!

Covid-19 — More Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

01      Q: How can I protect myself if someone else gets groceries for me?

A: When you or others bring groceries to your home, leave them outside until you are ready to safely disinfect the items.  Remove each product from shopping bags and using a standard disinfectant, wipe or spray the outer surfaces of each plastic, metal or glass product container, leaving the surface appearing “wet” for at least 10 seconds.  Place on a clean disinfected surface.   Pour or dump items such as bread, cereal and crackers in properly cleaned storage containers, safely placing the wrappers and coverings aside.  Thoroughly wash all fruit and vegetables with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.  Valuable suggestions and methods to carry out these important procedures are discussed and demonstrated in this 13-minute video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=sjDuwc9KBps&feature=emb_logJPhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=sjDuwc9KBps&feature=emb_logo

 02      Q: I sent my family and friends the 13-minute video on safely unpacking groceries.  My son tells me not to do this – it has been debunked.  He sent me back an Internet article saying the CDC does not recommend sanitizing groceries nor does the World Health Organization.  The FDA stated there is no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus.  Is this true?

A: It is true that neither the CDC nor the WHO specify groceries in its recommendations for sanitizing.  But that doesn’t mean they recommend not doing it!  They also haven’t specified sanitizing automobile steering wheels, computer keyboards, and tray tables.  But all of these are covered under the broad guideline defining the need to disinfect “surfaces.”  It is also true that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not reported any studies of virus contamination of food.  But the absence of such studies doesn’t prove that food can’t be contaminated.

Following these conclusions that protective actions are not necessary can be quite dangerous.  Consider the following.  A cereal package was handled by a stocking clerk loading store shelves while coughing.  If we believe the scientific fact that this virus remains viable – can infect others – on cardboard for up to 24 hours, why would anyone assume that handling that carton a few hours later at home was safe?  Until proven otherwise, we have to assume that all surfaces can be contaminated by coronavirus-19.

03  Q: How long does coronavirus-19 remain infectious on different surfaces?

A: Many early reports answered this question with widely differing time intervals.  To clarify this scientifically, the National Institute of Health in March 2020 published the definitive answer:

  • “In aerosols for up to 3 hours”; (this refers to airborne particles)
  • “On copper for up to 4 hours”;
  • “On cardboard for up to 24 hours”;
  • “On plastic and stainless steel for up to up to 3 days.”
    • Per previous guidance – all “hard surfaces” are in this above group.)
  • In a related earlier study, similar coronavirus particles remained infectious for 2 years or more when frozen.

These data guides us in how best to schedule disinfecting surfaces.

04  Q: If you send out for prepared meals, should we worry that the delivered food may be contaminated with coronavirus-19 particles?

          A: The safest prepared food to order from others is likely cooked and “served hot” meals.  Have these delivered and left outside with no personal contact.  Remove cardboard or paper containers placing the meals on clean dishes and bring inside.  Wash hands or use hand sanitizer.  Using a microwave, reheat the food until steam is visible.  Heat destroys virus particles.  Cold meals including salads cannot be microwaved, washed with soap and water, or have disinfectant chemicals put on them.  Existing research doesn’t yet provide a definitive answer, but indications are the risk is probably quite low.

05  Q: How did authorities come up with 6 feet as the distance for “social- separation?”

A: We are asked to follow many guidelines, but are given minimal information why these rules were developed.  One leading way infection occurs is by hand contact with the virus on surfaces, then touching the face.  The other common way of transmission is direct contact with the virus suspended in the air.  There is a greater risk of infection when the virus particles are in greater concentration.  We hear that an infected person releases the virus when they exhale the virus “droplets” that come in contact with a healthy person’s mouth or nose.  The term “droplets” can be misleading – it implies visible specks of water that quickly drop to the ground.  A more accurate term is often used: “aerosol” transmission.  Breathe on a mirror, and the invisible aerosol mist appears as a visible patch of condensed moisture.

When anyone infected coughs or sneezes, a denser aerosol spray of microscopic virus particles is discharged over greater distance than when breathing normally.  They float in the air, and drift away becoming increasingly less concentrated over time and distance.  Consider this “thought experiment” (you don’t need to actually do this while shopping!)  Using a spray can of room air freshener, point it away from you and release a short split-second puff of spray.  Imaging walking forward and note how long you can go before you can’t smell the resulting spray.  Next, imagine spraying another short puff into your bent elbow.  Note how closer to you the scent remains – how aerosol particles are more confined in their density and spread.   Imagine that the distance you can smell the aerosol odor as the same distance that coronavirus-19 particles are spread in concentrations that enable them to infect you.

Many situations influence the concentration and spread of this aerosol.  Outdoors, especially when there is a breeze, these distances are nearer the source.  In a living room with the windows closed, they concentration may be farther away.  Rather than asking us to remember and calculate for each situation we may be in, authorities have agreed upon the distance of 6 feet separation as being uniformly safe for different situations.

 

 

This is Not a Drill

Over the last week of August our family rented a cottage on Cape Cod. One day we came home from the beach and discovered a gas leak in the basement. For a few minutes the best word to describe my response was confusion. OK, it’s only in the basement, except I can smell it a little bit upstairs. We have to do something. Let’s call the owner – or should we call the gas company, or the plumber, or 911? It’s dinner time; the boys are getting cranky from hunger; I’m getting cranky from hunger; is it ok to light the grill, which is near the house, but not that near? Can the pilot light on the water heater ignite the gas in the basement? Is it OK to take a shower? Stephany reached the owner on the phone, who thought it was best to call the plumber who had been working on the house earlier that day. That’s when the fire alarm went off. Yikes. For a moment I experienced full-blown panic. Then, for the first time since smelling the gas I took a breath. Just one breath with that loud beeping and that jarring, mechanical voice announcing the presence of a fire, and I somehow gained clarity, calm, and a sense of resolve. I yelled at Stephany to have the owner call the gas company to come turn off the gas. I ordered the boys out of the house to the front yard. I grabbed my phone and some corn chips and salsa. We camped out on the front lawn, away from the house, until the gas company arrived, turned off the gas, vented the house, and fixed the leak. The whole ordeal lasted about 90 minutes.

This was not a drill. If it had been, I would not have given myself high marks for my initial response. Confusion and panic are understandable, but if there’s a gas leak, evacuate first, then be confused. And in hindsight, we should have called 911 immediately. The gas company treated the situation as an emergency and arrived quickly, but I suspect the fire department would have arrived more quickly. 

This experience raises two related questions, both with spiritual ramifications. First, in the midst of a crisis or a disaster—a fire, a flood, a long-term power outage, an earthquake, a medical emergency, a shooting—here or, for that matter, anywhere you happen to be—how do or would you respond emotionally? In such situations it’s rarely our rational mind that responds first. There’s a moment of surprise. Our ancient, limbic, fight-flee-or-freeze instinct kicks in. Fear, anger, panic, confusion kick in. It’s a survival response. It floods the body with adrenalin, quickens the pulse, quickens breathing. It often makes decisions for us. We fight before thinking, “I need to fight.” We flee before thinking, “I need to flee.” We push a child out of the way of an oncoming car before thinking, “I’ve got to save that child.” We say, “Oh my God,” before thinking, “I need to pray.” So, how—and how quickly—do we get to that place of clear, calm resolve? How do we get to thoughtfulness?

That initial gut response is virtually unavoidable. It’s in our nature, our wiring. Hopefully it does what our ancient ancestors needed it to do, which is save our lives or the lives of others.  But once we’ve been surprised, once we’ve been confused, once we’ve reacted emotionally to the threat—our ancient, limbic response becomes increasingly unhelpful. We need calm. We need clarity. How do we move from fight-flee-freeze auto-pilot to calm, clear rationality? How do we move from hot to cool in the midst of a disaster? My sense is that the quality of our day-to-day spiritual lives matters immensely in moments like this. If we don’t have a daily practice of any sort, if we aren’t used to intentionally sinking into a relaxed, focused state of being for at least a few minutes every day, then we have very little to reach for in the midst of a crisis. But if we are accustomed to setting aside time each day to breathe, to pray, to meditate, to settle in, to sink in, to focus our attention, to study and contemplate, to stretch, to engage in ritual, to connect intentionally with a reality larger than ourselves—if it is part of our regular living—then we can use it in the midst of a crisis. Over time our spiritual practices become instinctual too. There’s smoke coming from the kitchen. Your pulse is racing. Take a breath. There’s a foot of water on the basement floor. You’re panicking. Quiet your mind. Someone has fainted in front of you. Imagine that calm state you attain when you exercise or stretch. You hear screams and you know something is wrong. You’re highly agitated. Say that short comforting prayer that’s always been meaningful to you, even if you don’t believe in the power of prayer. Say it with intention. It is a spiritual resource for bringing calm and clarity in the midst of a crisis.

A few years ago a group of us studied spiritual writer Thomas Moore’s A Religion of One’s Own. One of his central ideas is that regular spiritual practice cultivates an alert mind. He means a mind alert to insights, intuitions and synchronicities that come to us as if out of nowhere. Often we don’t notice them, let alone realize the directions in which they are pointing us. Often we ignore them because we aren’t ready for them. Regular spiritual practice—anything that focuses or unclutters the mind—opens us up to receive revelations, says Moore.[1] It strikes me that having a regular spiritual practice contributes to our alertness and readiness to manage ourselves and others in the midst of a crisis.

Last week at the 9:00 service I shared some words from a blog post by the Rev. Dawn Cooley, a staff member in the office of the Southern Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Her post was called “Beyond Disaster Relief.” She talks about the way so many people respond to disasters like hurricanes with not only love and compassion but courage and heroism. Without in any way belittling these loving, heroic testaments to the human spirit, Rev. Cooley points out that “Our tendency is to latch onto these stories and think about how great it is that we help each other out when we must. But … why must it take a disaster, such as a hurricane, to get us to treat one another with care and concern?” She quotes a friend who asks: well before the storm, “have I been my brother’s keeper? [Have I cared] about his livelihood before his actual, physical life was at stake…. That’s a question worth sitting with.”[2]

It’s true: the regular, daily quality of our community, of our relationships, of our concern for one another and for strangers, impacts the quality of our response in times of crisis. The more we care about each other and strangers in good times, the better able we’ll be to care for each other and strangers in hard times. Rev. Cooley says “Send love, and care, and financial support to those in Texas and Louisiana [and now Florida], but don’t stop there. Let us work to find ways to implement these actions and attitudes into our daily lives. Urge your representatives and elected officials to create crisis plans, knowing more events like this will happen. Work to create legislation that treats people with dignity at all times. Demand justice for those in need—not just in a natural disaster but at all times…. For better and for worse, we will have many opportunities to practice.”[3] The more we do the work—the spiritual work, the service work, the social justice work—in good times, the better able we’ll be to respond to crises, the more quickly we’ll move from fight-flee-or-freeze to calm, clear rationality when disaster strikes.

Second question. In the response to any crisis, do we actually know the right things to do and in what order they need to be done? This question also has spiritual ramifications. A simple example: imagine that during worship on a Sunday morning, a fire breaks out in the kitchen. We’re here in the sanctuary. We become aware of the fire, and although it isn’t huge, it also doesn’t appear to be under control. Whoever is leading worship calmly invites you to evacuate. People on the left move slowly to the walls and down the aisle to the doors. People on the right move slowly to the walls and down the aisle to the lobby and out the doors. Somebody hit the fire alarm on your way out. Four or five of you have already called 911 (Note: in an emergency it’s best to call 911 from a landline which routes more quickly to local dispatchers. The closest landline to this room is in the kitchen which, in this scenario, is on fire, so call 911 on your cell.) Be mindful of elders, people in wheelchairs, people with babies. Move at their pace. This will not take long. Somebody near the right-hand door, please go downstairs and alert the adults that we’re evacuating due to fire and they must do the same with the children. By the way, conduct a garden level fire drill with the kids every year. We don’t conduct a main level fire drill, but we will start doing them periodically. Here’s why: We’ve successfully evacuated the building, which includes establishing a location for teachers to bring children to their parents, but then what happens? The safest, most helpful place to be now is in a car; and that car is to remain parked. Nobody attempts to leave. The hill at the entrance to our lot is too steep for some of the firetrucks to use. They will use the exit ramp. If anyone tries to leave, they risk blocking emergency responders or, worse, colliding with them. Do we actually know the right things to do and in what order they need to be done so that we do them as effectively as possible?            

Unless we plan and train for crises, we won’t know. One of my jobs as the head of staff, and one of the Policy Board’s jobs in its fiduciary role on behalf of the congregation, is to ensure that we and our building are as safe as possible. One dimension of safety is knowing what to do in a crisis. To that end, the Policy Board charged an Emergency Preparedness Team with the task of creating an Emergency Preparedness Plan. The team includes at large members Cressy Goodwin and Peter Marroto, Bill Graver from the Buildings and Grounds Committee, Sue McMillen from the Pastoral Care Committee, Jane Osborn, our sexton, Annie Gentile, our Office Administrator, Gina Campellone, our Director of Religious Education, and myself. Thanks to all of you who’ve been part of this effort. Under Cressy’s leadership we created the plan earlier this year. It is consistent with guidelines for the town of Manchester and our region, which are consistent with guidelines established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The plan offers concise directions in the event of smoke or fire, a power outage, a medical emergency, an armed and dangerous person entering the building, an unarmed but dangerous person entering the building, storm damage, flooding, septic system failure, hazardous materials spill, loss of water supply, breakdown of our heating and cooling system, and how and when to provide temporary shelter to members and friends. We’ve begun training the staff in using the plan. We’re offering a workshop today at 1:00 for anyone who would like to begin their own training. We’re still figuring out the best ways to provide training to all of you. Knowledge is definitely power in an emergency. An actual fire drill is coming.     

One of my anxieties in talking about this is that it will raise doubts in your minds about how safe we truly are here. In naming the potential for fire, might some of you look around and wonder, Hmmm, if there were a fire in the kitchen, could we really evacuate in time? If there were a shooter in the lobby? What chemical do we have that could spill? But that anxiety comes from me anticipating your fight-flee-or-freeze response. Not talking about it is pure denial. Doing the planning and the training on a regular basis, making it part of the life of the congregation, will enable all of us to respond with calm, clear resolve if a crisis should befall us here. It makes us safer. Doing the planning and the training—that’s the work of being our siblings’ keepers before the crisis comes. That’s caring for each other before the crisis comes. This making ourselves ready, this preparing ourselves, is not just a fiduciary responsibility. It is love in action.

I read to you earlier from my late colleague, the Rev. Robbie Walsh two meditations, “Fault Line” and “Fire at the Parsonage.” He isn’t writing about emergency preparedness, but he it reminding us that disasters happen, that our lives, “already spilling over the brim, could be invaded, sent off in a new direction, turned aside by forces [we] were warned about but not prepared for.”[4] He reminds us that “The world is going to end, and we don’t know when. My world, or yours, may end tomorrow in some unexpected way.”[5] He warns us about the fragility of life, the potential for everything to come crashing down in an instant. “Have we done what we need to do?” he asks. “Have we said the words we should say before the opportunity is gone?”[6]

That is perhaps the greatest spiritual benefit to come to us from emergency planning. In naming the crises that could happen, we accept our fragility, and ultimately our mortality. In doing so we are inevitably reminded of the things that matter most, of the people and pets and places and experiences we love most deeply, of the bonds that hold us close, of the passions that set us free. We are reminded, in Walsh’s words, that “the shifting plates, the restive earth, your room, your precious life, they all proceed from love, the ground on which we [move] together.”[7]

Life is not a drill. May we plan well, because it will make a difference, even if disaster never strikes.

Life is not a drill. May we respond well, because our lives depend on it.

Life is not a drill. May we love deeply before the storm, because our lives can change dramatically in an instant, and we may not get the chance again.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own (New York: Avery, 2014) p. 184.

[2] Rev. Dawn Skjei Cooley “Beyond Disaster Relief, September 5, 2017, http://www.uua.org/southern/blog/beyond-disaster-relief.

[3] Rev. Dawn Skjei Cooley “Beyond Disaster Relief, September 5, 2017, http://www.uua.org/southern/blog/beyond-disaster-relief.

[4] Walsh, Robert, “Fault Line,” Noisy Stones: A Meditation Manual (Boston: Skinner House, 1992) p. 15.

[5] Walsh, Robert, “Fire at the Parsonage,” Noisy Stones: A Meditation Manual (Boston: Skinner House, 1992) p. 14.

[6] Walsh, “Fire at the Parsonage,” p. 14.

[7] Walsh, “Fault Line,” p. 15.