In the last few days, the arrival of the dreaded coronavirus in America has gone from “it’s going to happen” to “it’s here.” The mindset of the average American, at least here in the West, has gone from “I guess I’ll wash my hands more often” to “OMG! Let’s go to Costco and buy hand sanitizer and toilet paper like there’s no tomorrow!” Seattle stores look like Florida one day before a big hurricane. I’m fairly confident this will, in the end, turn out to be more like a bad seasonal flu epidemic rather than The End of the World As We Know It, but it is still important for individuals, communities, companies, and the government to take prudent and even in some cases extreme measures to protect the public. Which brings us to the Church, which is more vulnerable to adverse impact than most organizations, given the missionaries we have scattered all over Asia and the weekly germ-fest gathering we call Sacrament Meeting.
The Perfect Viral Storm
If you were an evil viral demon intent on spreading the coronavirus rather than suppressing it, here’s what you would do. Make 200 people of all ages come together in one room for one hour once a week. Make people feel a duty to attend this meeting even if they are sick and coughing. Make people sit shoulder to shoulder, so at least a dozen people are in that six-foot viral transmission radius. Encourage people to transmit the virus by shaking hands with ten or twenty people before and after the meeting. Then, in case these measures aren’t sufficient to successfully transmit the virus to all in attendance, have young boys pass five or six open trays with a community handle (all must touch) with bread and water (all must eat and drink). At least there are individual cups these days. As a final measure, all morsels of bread are touched by the hands of teenage boys who wash their hands prior to the service at least one-third of the time. Boys will be boys.
Okay, that’s a little overstated. But only slightly. In recent news releases at the Newsroom, emails to the general membership, and stories at the Deseret News, the Church has announced measures it is taking, such as removing all missionaries from Hong Kong, sending some out-of-country missionaries in other areas home a bit early and delaying the arrival of new missionaries, and directing missionaries who return to, say, Utah to self-quarantine for 14 days as directed by the Centers for Disease Control. The Church is also closing temples in Japan and South Korea, and closing all church buildings (no church meetings at all) in the entire country of Japan. These are significant but, in the circumstances, quite reasonable measure for the Church to take.
Meanwhile, at church …
Here’s the question for readers: What happened in your ward and stake this last Sunday and what will happen in the next week or two? Church meetings were held as usual in the Seattle area two days ago, but public schools started to close yesterday (Monday). I’m thinking there is a good chance some LDS church units in the Seattle area will suspend meetings for a couple of weeks starting next Sunday. Given the sudden spike of serious discussion by officials and panic thinking by citizens the past two days, a lot can change in the five days between now and this coming Sunday. Given that dozens or even hundreds of LDS missionaries from at-risk overseas areas are now returning to Utah, I expect there will soon be active cases there. Good thing Utah Mormons have barrels of wheat and water stored in their basements and garages — no panic buying in Zion next week.
I’m no doctor, but I do follow the news. Prudent measures you and your kin should take include washing hands more and minimizing visits to public places where you and other people touch things a lot (grocery stores, airplanes, churches). Avoid sick people. Shake hands less or not at all. Put off that trip to Milan you had planned for next week. This applies even more emphatically for at-risk demographic groups such as those who are older and those with an underlying health condition.
Let’s pool the hive mind in the comments. What is happening in your ward, stake, or town? Any emails from your local leaders? Any hand sanitizer still on the shelves at your favorite grocery story? Any missionaries you know affected by recent measures the Church has taken? Let’s hope everyone stays healthy or, if ill, recovers fully.
Note: I’m having a hard time posting links this morning, so readers who want to post links to relevant LDS Newsroom announcements, Deseret News articles, or local media stories are welcome to do so.