What do greenhouses teach about COVID-19?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, I had only ever heard the concept of “quarantine” in two instances – the Bible and the greenhouse. The Bible doesn’t actually use the word, but rather uses the term “isolate” (NIV) or “shut him up” (ESV). In Leviticus 13 we read detailed instructions for the priests to inspect those who had skin diseases and isolate outside the camp anyone with a suspected case of such a disease. If the disease was confirmed, the isolation was to last much longer.
Quarantine is also well known in the horticulture industry. Prior to working for ARPA Canada, I spent about 20 years as a grower for multiple companies and quarantining was a weekly, if not daily, process. Proper pest management is crucial to the success of your crop. Every day growers do walk-throughs to ensure that there are no outbreaks of aphids, whiteflies, etc. Whenever I found an area that had an infestation, I would act quickly to remove the infected plants and their adjoining plants to a spot where I could treat them on their own without unnecessarily disturbing the healthy plants.
What does this have to do with COVID-19?
God designed humans to live in a relationship with Himself and others. Temporary isolation can be necessary to protect those at risk and to prevent the spread of disease, but in both the Israelite camp and the greenhouse, isolation is directed not towards the healthy, but towards the infected and at risk, and those in direct contact with them.
The instructions we read in Leviticus 13 do not impact those who have not contracted a disease, only those who have. Likewise, when I found a few tables of plants that were infested with aphids, life went on as normal for the rest of the greenhouse, with only the infected tables removed for treatment.
Policies should be focused on their aim to protect those known to be at greater risk. Such policies include: regular testing for those who work with vulnerable people and could expose them to the virus, regular testing of residents of nursing homes, exceptionally high levels of cleanliness at nursing homes, ensuring adequate supplies and staffing at these care homes, restricting visitors, providing adequate protective measures for those caring for COVID-19 patients, and (especially early on) isolating people returning from places abroad with a high infection rate and those who have had close contact with an infected person. But knowing who is vulnerable to COVID-19 does not seem to have improved our ability to protect them because leaders got caught up in a strategy aimed at restricting the activity and movement of the young and healthy.
Who is not receiving help?
We have been hearing horrible stories from senior care homes in many Canadian provinces. The tragedy occurring in nursing homes exposes the problem with focusing on the healthy at the expense of the sick. For example, in Quebec, the government was busy shutting down workplaces, posting signs at and policing public parks, policing its borders with other provinces, and prohibiting gatherings of more than two people. Meanwhile, major outbreaks were happening among those who were actually the most vulnerable – those in nursing homes, where roughly 80% of COVID-19-related deaths have occurred.
In addition to seniors struggling with high infection rates, there is a steady stream of news detailing the incredible tragedies that are occurring because of the COVID-19 pandemic – not as a result of the virus, but because of the governing statutes that have impacted nearly every other aspect of life. Consider the story of this disabled woman who died alone because her family was prevented from visiting her. Or the many news reports that show a serious decrease in the mental health of Canadians as a result of social isolation and quarantines. People have also faced delays in obtaining cancer treatment, surgeries, and other medical care. And many new illnesses have likely gone undiagnosed in the past month.
And these stories do not even touch on the economic devastation facing individuals, families, and society. We need to be sure that this unexpected new virus warrants the reaction and restrictions that have quickly become part of our daily life.
A quick look at a few numbers
On April 3, 2020, the province of Ontario released modelling for the month of April. The medical experts, led by Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officer in Ontario, predicted that if the current government intervention continued there would be approximately 1,600 deaths in Ontario by April 30th as a result of COVID-19. If the current interventions were discontinued, the model projected 6,000 deaths.
The current interventions remained in place and, as I write this on the last day of April, it is clear that the modelling was inaccurate. Ontario’s death toll is 1,082, well below the 1,600 predicted.
The province of Alberta released their modelling a few days after Ontario, on April 8, 2020. Alberta boasted of having the ability to develop more accurate model scenarios due to the extensive testing and surveillance programs in the province. They focused on an ‘elevated’ and a ‘probable’ scenario for Alberta. The elevated scenario would see a peak of cases in early May with over 1,000,000 Albertans infected and between 500-6,600 deaths. The probable scenario would see a peak in mid-May with 800,000 infections and between 400-3,100 deaths.
It appears that the virus has already peaked in Alberta. The numbers will still increase, but at the end of April they are at 5355 cases and 89 deaths, way below initial projections.
While we can be thankful that the modelling predictions have not manifested, we also need to understand that all of life exposes people to risk and no government action will prevent everyone from dying. Whether in travel, work, family or community interactions, we always subject ourselves to the risk of harm – including from infectious diseases. Governments impose regulations to mitigate this risk, but everyone will acknowledge that there is no exact formula as to what those regulations ought to be.
So what should we be asking?
We are now able to make decisions based on real data instead of solely on modelling predictions. The question is, are governments willing to admit that much of the modelling was inaccurate and move towards removing the major infringements on our fundamental freedoms? While the infringements may have been justified at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the data shows a need for ongoing adjustment and refocusing. I believe it’s time that Canadians started respectfully asking their governments (at all levels) some serious questions. Dialogue between citizens and leaders is part of a healthy democracy. You can ask questions while obeying the law and submitting to civil authority. In the current context, where politics and media are so feverishly focused on coronavirus numbers, your questions can help remind leaders of other important matters.
Here are some suggestions:
- Are you able to give me any details as to what you are doing to mitigate spousal and child abuse during the lockdown you have imposed on society?
- Assisted suicide is legal in Canada, yet we do not promote suicide in general. Do you think that isolating healthy people and shutting down large portions of the economy might lead people to mental despair, and maybe even to suicide?
- The chief medical health officers continue to stress that the demographic most impacted is seniors. Why are you imposing regulations on all of society when all efforts should be taken to address the immediate concern at seniors’ facilities (including those who care for them)?
- Are you able to assure me that keeping us all apart will not affect our natural ability to immunize ourselves from many other viruses and diseases? And, with schools still closed, are children at a greater risk of lowered immune systems because they are no longer around other children who may be carrying said viruses or diseases?
- How has the health of the rest of the population been impacted by your imposed regulations? I’m thinking here especially of the many procedures that were cancelled over the past six weeks as hospitals prepared for a worst-case scenario, and the mental health of millions of Canadians.
Please know that I have much respect, and a lot of grace for those God has placed in authority over us. I have always prayed regularly for the government, and those prayers have ramped up in the past number of months. It is entirely understandable that when the novel coronavirus appeared in Canada there was some frantic decision making by those in government, including chief medical officers. There were (and still are) many unknowns, and much of the decision making had to be done based on modelling predictions.
But, now that Canada has been in a state of quasi-lockdown for six weeks, we can observe serious questions arising about the reaction to the COVID-19 virus. The list of questions above is not exhaustive and you may have some of your own too. ARPA Canada invites you to join us in respectfully engaging with the government as we seek a way forward that honours God, continues to make it possible for us to submit to those He has placed in authority, and demonstrates our desire to show love to our neighbour.