Of One Heart? The Church’s Pandemic Response

I’m curious how future generations will assess the response by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the COVID-19 pandemic. The starting point is arguably an auspicious one: at least when I think of natural disasters and personal tragedies, I think of helping hands mobilizing chainsaws and casseroles at the drop of a hat, reflecting a shared willingness to take tangible steps to help others when misfortune strikes.

Unlike most natural disasters, however, the COVID-19 pandemic is practically invisible—there are no downed trees or piles of debris to mark the areas hardest hit. Sure, streets were deserted during lockdowns in some parts of the world, and hospitals are overflowing in others, but for the most part the carnage is visible only to those most directly affected.

In my assessment, this cloak of invisibility—aided by an incubation period that separates the point of infection from the onset of disease and its consequences in time and space—has contributed to an unusual degree of politicization for a natural disaster. Instead of being perceived as something that warrants a coordinated collective response, the pandemic manifests itself as isolated individual hardship and tragedy, not something those who remain unaffected should necessarily be expected to care about. The response to the response has tended to fall along party lines, and those partisan divides can also be found among the members of the church—to the point that we may not even aspire to a united response—despite what in my view has been a balanced institutional approach to the pandemic and its impact on our communities.

In a letter dated 9 December 2021, for example, the Europe Area Presidency asserted that

The practice of worshipping together is of great significance and is a matter of deep spiritual consequence. It provides strength and protection to the Saints. We want to underscore the importance of holding worship services each Sunday (including second hour meetings) and of providing this respite and refuge to Heavenly Father’s children. […] Appropriate hygiene protocols (masks, social distancing, etc.) should be followed to promote safety.

The upper levels of church leadership have recognized that strengthening and protecting the Saints during a pandemic involves tradeoffs; just as seatbelt requirements, phytosanitary standards, and nuclear safety convey benefits to society at large, they also impose individual costs. But with members willing to support appropriate hygiene protocols, we should be able to meet individual spiritual needs without undermining public health. So much for the theory.

In practice, a BCC perma informs me that one of the organizations of his suburban ward has started scheduling separate “mask-optional” meetings to appease those who—almost two years into a pandemic caused by an airborne virus that has killed nearly 800,000 people in the US alone—do not want to wear one.  

The optics are devastating. What does a congregation that has literally split over the refusal by some to support a simple and effective measure to balance the demands of spiritual and physical well being hope to accomplish by meeting at all? On what issues do those who refuse to be their neighbor’s keeper hope to find common ground with their neighbors?

And even if separate meetings are uncommon, mask optional meetings as the only one offered are all too common. This unequally yoked response is problematic because the pandemic is a classic collective action problem—one indoor gathering is much like any other when it comes to community transmission, and if only some of us pitch in it will not always be enough to balance the benefits of in-person communion with the risks of an airborne virus adept at evading even the best vaccines.

Focusing attention on the holdouts, however, might obscure the broad support among members of the church for at least one important pandemic mitigation measure—vaccination. According to the Religious Identities and the Race Against the Virus: American Attitudes on Vaccination Mandates and Religious Exemptions (Wave 3) report published last week by the PRRI and IFYC, a significant majority of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do consider themselves to be their neighbors’ keepers:

Source: page 12 of the PRRI/IFYC report available here.

This is encouraging news, and should be weighed in any assessment by future generation of our pandemic response.

At any rate, I assess that my ward’s response to the pandemic—even if characterized by fits and starts as we all learn on the job—has been conducive to unity. In a political climate where vaccinations remain controversial, stake and ward leadership has asked us to keep our meetings open to everyone. The price is the mask, which must be worn at all times in the building except to take the sacrament or when speaking. I don’t know anyone who thinks masks are fun, but the ward has been disciplined, which has made it possible for the vaccinated, the recovered and the neither vaccinated nor recovered to all participate equally in our meetings at an acceptable level of risk for all. In our experience, the mask has been the great leveler rather than a source of division.

But enough about my views, assessments and experiences: how is the pandemic response going in your stakes, wards and branches? Is there a response? If so, to what extent does the membership support it? How has it evolved? Are you more or less optimistic about the prospects of becoming a people of one heart and one mind as a result of these past couple of years?

Comments

  1. We decided to keep our ward Christmas party in full compliance with First Presidency guidance, meaning masks on and no dinner (although we gave out pies to take home). While this was better than canceling the party altogether like we did in 2020, it is also hard seeing on social media other wards who interpret that guidance differently and enjoyed full meals and other maskless activities, like the pandemic never happened. It’s like being the only kid in the neighborhood whose parents wouldn’t let them go see Braveheart.

  2. Yes, that’s frustrating. For a worldwide church that manages to study the same verses of scripture each Sunday, you would think that local units would not have as much latitude to render public health guidance meaningless.

  3. My ward continues to be no masks and everything in person. The First Presidency’s letter urging masking and vaccination was largely ignored. A handful of people (literally a few) wear masks. The bishop, and nearly all of the ward leadership, are in the anti-vaccine and anti-mask camp. No one in the bishopric wears a mask. Zoom is still an option for sacrament meeting, which I appreciate, but you can see that those who attend are unmasked. The result is that those who take the virus (or the First Presidency’s counsel) seriously must either put themselves at risk or not come. It has undermined the faith in my home and worked to estrange us from the ward (I have some family members who are unsure about their own testimony who see this as “proof” that these leaders and others who loudly proclaim their church devotion/affiliation but won’t wear a mask don’t really believe that a “prophet” guides the church and don’t actually care about others). It has been and continues to be an awful situation for me. I wish the area Presidency would require masking in meetings as was done earlier in the pandemic, but it is still left up to local bishops. And my ward will never “choose” masking and vaccination no matter how much it is “urged.” The bishop has repeatedly said he follows all required protocols for COVID. The pandemic is literally raging in my county—highest spread alert level and hospitals at max capacity—but my ward leadership will not take measures and some regularly post anti-vaccine and anti-mask messages on Social media. They have in person maskless activities and parties and the bishop posts pictures on social media of members hugging (and even kissing cheeks) of others not in their household and declaring how unified and loving our ward is—as recently as the Christmas party last Saturday. The missionaries assigned to our area do not mask at all. I’ve even seen them at the grocery store and public events without masking. Meanwhile, the bishop gave a talk on Religious liberty (ostensibly D&C 134) and how the religious and the conservatives in our country are being persecuted and oppressed.

  4. David Keller says:

    In my ward we require all in attendance to wear masks. We’ve gone so far as to ask people to leave who were unwilling to wear a mask, which was admittedly a bit contentious. We did have a Christmas party and the majority of those in attendance wore masks as invited by the bishopric.

    In the disparity and diversity of response to the pandemic across the church throughout the world I see some of the true strengths of our faith. We view agency as a fundamental purpose of our mortal existence, and we can see that within our church that agency is alive and well and being expressed in countless ways. We believe that bishops and branch presidents are entitled to receive revelation in behalf of their members and in the 30,000+ units across the globe, we’ve seen perhaps 30,000+ responses to COVID. We believe in treating all of Gods children with love and respect, especially when they are different than us. COVID has provided ample opportunities for us to learn that even within our own wards there are many who think and act differently than we do. We believe that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ allows power into our lives, and in spite of such a diverse response to COVID, there are evidences that God’s work is moving forward, such as increases in convert baptisms and temple contruction in many parts of the world. What an exciting time to be alive.

  5. I’m very disappointed in my ward. Before the First Presidency’s email, about 5 percent of my fellow ward members were wearing masks, even though the CDC recommended that everybody, even the vaccinated, wear masks in public settings. The Sunday after the FP email, it looked like about 50 percent of the ward was masked (so the five wise and the five foolish virgins?). It has now been a few months since the August email, and last Sunday there were about a quarter of the members wearing masks, even though case, hospitalization, and death numbers are high and on the rise on my state. Many of the unmasked, I know, have been vaccinated, but Omicron is on the doorstep, and there are far too many breakthrough cases with Delta. Most Latter-day Saints, it appears to me, can’t be bothered with notions of public health or sacrifice. They are conservatives first and foremost, so all they care about is individual freedom. So much for the gospel or the First Presidency or science. I’m pretty tired of my fellow Church members at this point.

  6. nobody, really says:

    We have no pews, so it was a simple matter to arrange all the seating so family units could be spaced 10 feet apart. Half wear masks. The stake president, back in May, urged “back to normal as quickly as possible”, but we’ve been really hesitant to do that. There was a potluck this month, but some people were specifically *not* invited, so it was more like a private event. I track the latest advice from the state Department of Health at least monthly, and adjust accordingly.

    Zoom was great until the stake shut off internet in the building during a broadcast, so we’re not doing that any longer. We’ve even had baptisms that can be directly attributed to online broadcasts of church. With online options off the table, our numbers are down about 40% again.

  7. We had a new family move in our ward who do not wear masks. In my smug judgement, I quickly categorized them as Trump-luvin, government-hating, anti-maskers who won’t follow the prophet.

    After a few weeks of cultivating this perspective, we actually had dinner with them. We found out that a few years ago they lost a baby at the hospital after it was born, with no answers. It devastated the family.

    They did not say this, but I was impressed that this was a family who could have a deep mistrust of our health-engine, and after learning things that to their ears supported this distrust, they could be choosing not to wear masks/get vaccinated.

    I felt chastised by my judgement, felt greater love toward them – all the while being vaccinated and wearing my mask.

  8. Here in my part of Canada, masks are the law of the land. On Sunday we had one brother who doesn’t wear a mask attend and he wanted to pass the sacrament but the Bishop diplomatically told him, thanks but no thanks. We had a temple open house recently and the temple presidency’s words to anyone not wearing a mask prior to entering were, “thanks for coming but goodbye” . There is a small group of people who don’t wear a mask but I think the anti-vaxx group is larger.

  9. I was going to post a long comment and then read MT’s, which is pretty much my experience in my ward. The ward is proud that there’s no contention about the issue–almost everyone’s in agreement that they’ll just ignore the prophet when it comes to masks. “Other wards might fight about this issue, but our ward is better–we don’t fight about it!” is something my wife actually heard a few weeks back when she decided to show up for Relief Society. Our family and one other family stay home because only a couple of people at church are masking up. The local culture overrides the gospel on this issue.

  10. At the beginning of the pandemic, I remember looking forward to Church guidance amidst all the uncertainty and expecting that the Church would set an inspiring example to the world. Now I feel naive thinking that even my own ward could unite in following the prophet. On the one hand, I am encouraged that I can still feel love for the maskless anti-vaxers in my community because I know so many other good and admirable things about them, and our disagreement on this issue cannot erase everything else. On the other hand, it is tough to listen to talks or lessons about sacrifice and obedience from these same individuals and take them seriously.

  11. Well, Southern Utah is Trump country and at our recent Christmas party, nobody masked up and they even had a dinner, and of course food was served in such a way that people were breaking apart rolls, with bare hands, so touching food that other people would eat. Yeah, Trump is prophet around here. The nonmember neighbors are pretty good about getting vaccinated, but not our LDS neighbors. My husband tries to go to Sacrament meeting, but there are only one or two mask and no social distancing, and lots of hugging.

    And my son’s FIL quit a job rather than mask up once, for a few hours.

    If I hadn’t already lost faith in the LDS church, this would do it

  12. The last time the 1st presidency sent a letter encouraging masks the bishop read it and followed it up by telling people it is a personal decision, not to judge each other, and to discuss the issue at home and not at church. Since then the bishopric and only a very few individuals (less than 10%) wear masks at church.

    Under these conditions I do not attend except for special occasions like if one of my kids is asked to speak.

  13. Fortunately, following the counsel of health experts and the First Presidency has not been an issue in my ward. Masks and social distancing are required for all indoor meetings, and masks are available at the door for those who forget. Speakers do remove their masks while speaking at the pulpit. Every other pew is blocked off for seating. Sacrament Meeting is available via Zoom for those not comfortable attending. We did have a Christmas dinner, but the food was served by a few gloved servers, and everyone wore masks except while eating.

  14. I am bothered all around, and also really fatigued of mask-wearing. We are fully vaxed and boosted, and we’ve even had Covid (from a super spreader family funeral), but have family who are anti-vax (which often coincides with political views I find at least as disturbing). I dislike the party line that mask-wearing is important “because the prophet said so,” because the idea that we all have to unquestioningly obey every random thing the Church president says has already been proven to be terrible IMO, and is certainly not always the same thing as being a disciple of Jesus. While I believe we should follow the science to fight this pandemic together, I am just aghast at those who refuse to be vaccinated and yet want the same access to public spaces. Then they are upset that the pandemic won’t end and keeps developing new variants. They are why!

    But I also know this is not a Utah problem, nor a USA problem. There are anti-vaxers and anti-maskers all over Europe as well. Apparently god made a world of people who lack discernment and who behave in tribal ways and who think they are right when they are wrong, so here we are. I make mistakes too. I don’t always understand things properly either. I try to allow for personal mistakes. But I’m also on team human, not team Covid, so I’m trying to social distance around people who behave recklessly. I keep forgetting just how over the line some people are.

  15. “We believe in treating all of Gods children with love and respect, especially when they are different than us. COVID has provided ample opportunities for us to learn that even within our own wards there are many who think and act differently than we do.”

    This is a generally true principle. But it wouldn’t be true if the way someone acted differently was to hold a knife to your loved one’s throat. For some in our congregations who are immunocompromised or otherwise at risk, it is life-threatening behavior you’re suggesting we should just tolerate because God’s children are all different. That doesn’t make sense.

  16. I lost energy to care what others do in this regard at church long ago in order to preserve my mental health. Fully vaccinated, will be fully boosted on Friday, kids will be fully vaccinated on Friday, and mask-wearing, while not fun, is just not a big deal to us. Our ward seems to feel somewhat different but whatever. Lucky for us community spread is very low in our city and the vaccination rate is over 70%, kids are required to wear masks at school, and we are going back to a statewide indoor mask mandate tomorrow so I feel safe overall, if not at church. We used to sit in the chapel but now we sit in the overflow where the chairs are more spread out, just to be safe.

    But here’s what kills me: our area presidency has asked us to stop zoom church because too many families are using it when they could be here in person, or so they argue. Firstly, the area presidency doesn’t know why families choose how to worship and I find it rude and presumptuous to assume it’s out of laziness; second, the pandemic ain’t over; third, it’s high time we just meet people where they are and if zoom church is where they are, let’s just celebrate that.

    I guess what I’m saying is, I’m now tired of old white men who don’t know me telling me what to do. Which means I guess I’m not a good poster child for church unity in a pandemic.

  17. Like most (all?) my experience is limited to my ward in my town. My ward simply reflects the area where we live. A few wear masks, most don’t. As far as I know, there is no discussion either way. The ward is young. I’d guess fewer than ten over 50. Kids wear masks in school but I understand that may end in the new year. Workers in our local temple wear masks in public spaces but they come off in the room where treats are available. Zoom church is available and my wife, whose health has kept her from church for five years, takes advantage of that.

  18. The conditions of the pandemic show how intensely local is the experience of being a member of the church. The prophets are far away. Shared worship happens in person, and only personal relationships can give practical meaning to religion. The PRRI survey that peterllc refers to in his post may or may not represent the aggregate views of Latter-day Saints, but it’s not the aggregate that most affects my experience of the pandemic. If I live in a ward with lots of people who are hostile to taking safety measures, my experience will be vastly different from that of someone in an area where people are happy to get vaccinated and wear masks.

    What is so striking to me is that it has always been this way. As much as I might think that I’m following the prophet, what really shapes my identity as a Mormon has always been my family, my close friends in the church, and the members of the ward who surround me in various meetings. I see that now in a way that I have never seen it before.

    I live in a neighborhood where there is a lot of dissent from safety measures. Not everyone around here thinks that way, but there are enough to form a critical mass. I feel safer, both physically and spiritually, when I am not in the same room with members of my ward. That feeling is extraordinary. It is destabilizing.

  19. If Covid was a pressure test on the potentialities of Zion, my ward and stake largely failed. I overheard many members highly critical of the First Presidency for the letter urging vaccinations and masking. My trust and respect for LDS people has never been lower.

  20. I’m absolutely baffled by the people who refuse to wear a mask because it’s not a hard thing to do and doing simple things to make people feel safe is just a part of being a member of society, let alone a disciple of Jesus Christ. But I’m sure seeing a lot of Pharisaical judgment in the post and the comment. With vaccination, the reality is that masking is only protecting the unvaccinated; the vaccinated are already very well protected from serious illness and death. The way people pass judgment on others not wearing masks makes it sound like we are at the beginning of the pandemic, when that was all we could do. At some point, we’re going to have to recognize that people will make their own decisions, and now that those of us wise enough to get vaccinated are not so directly affected by those decisions, the problem becomes one of individual decision-making, not social coercion.

  21. Alan J Clark says:

    Following the prophet has always been difficult. It is interesting to see how the pendulum of agreement and disagreement sways, and what circumstances guide its rhythms. Will it offend liberals or conservatives? Several times Heber J. Grant expressed his dissatisfaction with members who ignored the guidance of the president of the church and other leaders. During a Relief Society Conference in 1926 he told the following story:

    Wherever I go, almost without exception, the people sing, ‘We thank thee, O God, for a prophet, to guide us in these latter days.’ I once took a trip of nearly six weeks’ duration with Brother John Henry Smith to southern Utah and Arizona. We held from one to five meetings a day in different places, traveling all the time, and during those six weeks we held six quarterly conferences. We also held meetings in all the little towns we went through. After traveling a week or ten days I noticed that in every meeting we had sung ‘We thank thee, O God, for a prophet.’ So I decided to take note, and, lo and behold, during that entire six weeks in every town which we visited they sang that hymn. It seemed then, and it seems now, to be a very great favorite with the people. But I have discovered that there are many who really ought to put a postscript on the hymn when they sing it, so far as their lives are concerned, to the effect, ‘When he guides us to please our dear selves.'” – Heber J Grant, 1926

    Almost a hundred years ago, and our ability to follow the prophet remains the same. Vaccines, same sex marriage, ERA, civil rights, conscientious objectors, the repeal of prohibition, growing sugar beets, forming cooperative businesses….. There’s always something to disagree about. Pleasing our dear selves comes far more naturally for most people than sacrificing our opinions in favor of another’s. And odds are, we all have a secret list of disagreements with our bishop or with the prophet. The real question is how we treat those with whom we disagree. In particular, how do we treat our leaders when we disagree with them? One heart and one mind, indeed.

  22. Geoff - Aus says:

    We have a new stake president who has had read twice the statement from FP. I understand there have been a few in the ward complain.
    I live in Queensland where we have 5 million people and 7 covid deaths, by requiring anyone coming into the state isolate in hotel quarintine for 2 weeks, at their expense. That has now ended because we passed 89% with one dose and 82% double vacinated so we are opening the borders, and will see over next few months. We have been living a normal life in our safe bubble.

    Every second pew has been removed in our chapel, and we have not been wearing masks except for those doing the sacrament, but have been social distancing on the pews.

    If there are outbreaks with the removal of border restrictions, we will be wearing masks.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    Our initial response to the pandemic was state of the art. This was mostly because our then Bishop was a scientist, and as Executive Secretary I had significant input. Our response has degraded over time. It is still better by far than southern Utah, but it is less robust than it used to be, for two reasons. First, we have some very conservative families that chafed under the restrictions and have consistently pushed back. Second, at some point our Area leaders panicked
    and seemed to worry people were getting out of the routine of in-person church, so they mandated a full hour of sacrament and adding an in-person second hour component.

  24. Well written. Even if I might find occasion to disagree on a few important things, it won’t because I can see how great care was taken in writing this to be reasonably fair minded. A great pattern for us all to emulate.

  25. But I’m sure seeing a lot of Pharisaical judgment in the post and the comment. With vaccination, the reality is that masking is only protecting the unvaccinated; the vaccinated are already very well protected from serious illness and death. The way people pass judgment on others not wearing masks makes it sound like we are at the beginning of the pandemic, when that was all we could do.

    And what is wrong with protecting the unvaccinated? I’ve had my three shots and have no problem continuing to wear a mask. I know members of my ward who are not vaccinated on principle—which boggles my mind—but in Don Rumsfeld’s immortal words, you go to war with the army you have. The unvaccinated might not care about catching a virus, but three members of my family—two were vaccinated, by the way—were laid low by COVID-19 and if wearing a mask spares a few people that experience, I will continue to feel very good about doing so and encouraging others to do the same. It’s a fluid situation with breakthrough infections on the rise, and overconfidence in the current crop of vaccines makes it sound like we are in the middle of the pandemic, when people thought they could get their shot and go back to business as usual.

  26. There’s always something to disagree about.

    Verily. That said, most disagreements don’t have the potential to contribute to community transmission of a deadly virus. And if mitigating the effects of, say, pride were as simple as donning a mask, I like to think that we would consider doing just that.

  27. Shared worship happens in person, and only personal relationships can give practical meaning to religion

    This is a great insight, thank you.

  28. Mark Brown says:

    All through the scriptures, we learn to give special consideration to the weak, the sick, and the most vulnerable. This principle is repeated in every book in our standard works, multiple times. Section 89 says the Word of Wisdom is adapted for the weakest of the saints, and we expect strict, no excuse compliance, no questions asked.

    So, it’s astonishing and incredibly disappointing that we just don’t care about this, or frame it as a matter of free agency or non-contention. Every ward has people who are medically fragile, and the message is coming through loud and clear that it is too inconvenient for us to care about them. Yes, wearing a mask in inconvenient and a little uncomfortable. So is wearing a necktie. Big deal. Temples require everybody to wear masks, no exceptions.

    Based on what I’ve observed over the last 18 months, I don’t expect us to be building Zion any time soon. In fact, that seems more distant now than at any time in my life.

  29. Adapting standards and norms to accommodate the tails of the distribution curve seems irrational, impractical, enormously inefficient, and uncharitable. Within the US population fewer than 3% of individuals even approach the category of “immuno-compromised” and even fewer genuinely suffer maladies severe enough to warrant avoiding a vaccination. Seems to me the more charitable (and safer) approach for the genuinely immuno-compromised is to encourage that minute share of the population behave to protect themselves rather than foist that responsibility upon a host of strangers.

  30. Do we really, truly now think of our brothers and sisters in our wards as “a host of strangers”? Yikes! We are even worse off than I thought.

    At any rate, people over 75 are in danger, even if they’re vaccinated. My ward has at least 20 active members in that category. Shame on us if we’re too stupid and evil to care if they drown in their own lung fluid.

    I did a quick scan of both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Nowhere did I find a reference to charity as not “foisting our responsibility”.

  31. PaulM’s right. Let’s just all give a huge expletive to Christ’s 90 and 9 parable, and that whole “Am I my brothers keeper?”

  32. In suburban Seattle, our stake has continued mask mandates and social distancing, but after 20 months, there are some signs of “safety fatigue.” There have been a few decisions for in-person only stake meetings that have come across as ill-advised, and there have been a number of times that we have been told that Zoom participation in sacrament meetings would be ending “in a few more weeks.” There is definitely a sense that at that murky level of church leadership just above the stake level that Zoom meetings are encouraging laziness on the part of the members. The one exception is that our ward Christmas party was actually held last Sunday right after the two hour block, and Subway sandwiches served. People were encouraged to wear their masks except while eating, and compliance was good, if not total. We have heard no grumbling from leadership about mask wearing, so that is a plus. Being outside the Utah/Idaho zone is certainly an advantage. I flew to Utah in May for the funeral of a high school friend in Utah County, and no one was wearing a mask at the funeral.

    I do fear that the divisions are growing deeper. I have friends and family who have quit the church over LGBTQ issues, and know personally a few on the other side who have turned in temple recommends over the First Presidency’s stand on masks and vaccines, believing that they are fallen prophets. As Mark said above, we appear to failing the Zion test of one heart and one mind.

  33. To those who think masks are unnecessary once you’re vaccinated, think again. Today the UK reported its highest ever daily infections since the pandemic began. And that’s with a high level of vaccinations, and increasing levels of booster doses. Omicron is a much bigger game changer than delta.

  34. Very few masks in my ward or stake in meetings or at activities (contrasted with the adjacent stake, whose stake president is a physician, where masking is MUCH higher compliance). I can’t say I particularly care anymore right now – mainly because I’m burned out of caring after being frustrated about it for 1.5 years, and because at this point I and all of my family are fully vaccinated and low-risk – although it does bother me when the young men blessing and passing the sacrament don’t wear masks. Come on. Especially since I know a lot of their families are anti-vaxxers and so they are not vaccinated, either. We’ve also had various anti-maskimonies shared during testimony meeting as well.

    What has really bothered me too, though, is that it’s been this way throughout the entire pandemic, including when transmission rates were very high and no vaccines were available yet. I’m in YW and I had two high-risk girls in my class and two high-risk advisors. When I pleaded with the rest of the YW and YM leaders to ask people to wear masks to activities (which we were technically supposed to be doing under both area, stake, and ward guidelines, but which weren’t being followed by the kids OR THE LEADERS), my (anti-mask, anti-vaccine, Trump-flag-waving) YW president’s solution was to “take a treat to the girls who can’t attend” rather than asking people to wear masks to that *everyone* could attend. That was so insane to me. Like, I just cannot understand how anyone faced with those two options – wear masks so that everyone can come, or don’t wear masks and exclude people – would think Jesus would opt for the second. As with many, this has really deeply damaged my relationship with my Church community.

    The last little bit of “twilight zone” I’ve experienced is that a couple of times the stake has asked the ward to announce vaccine clinics – *after* the prophet encouraged people to get vaccines. Invariably, the Relief Society announced in this bizzare, “we don’t really want to be sending this, we know vaccines are very controversial, we respect everyone’s choices for their own bodies and are just passing this info along and not actually suggesting that anyone should get the vaccine” email. I am just absolutely floored that even though the official Church position is that we should get vaccinated, the Relief Society doesn’t feel comfortable announcing the location of a vaccine clinic in a straightforward manner. That said, I’m happy to know that the Church supports my decisions about what to do with my own body and will keep that in mind in the future ;-).

    Yeah, it’s been rough. I feel strongly and know that I need to let this go and go on loving my neighbors and know that they are good people doing their best and that we just see the world differently and they are loving the best way that they know how. But it’s really, really hard. I feel really, really wounded after advocating for my at-risk YW and advisors and being shot down repeatedly and it was very weird feeling so out-of-place being the only person in a mask week after week and feeling judged for *doing what I was asked to be doing*. And I feel like we’ve gone very, very wrong somewhere creating a group of well-intentioned people who gobbled up lies and misinformation.

  35. Mark Brown:

    There has been substantial turnover in my ward over the last couple of years specifically. I truly have not met probably a fourth of my ward due to social distancing policies so, yes, there are a substantial number of actual strangers within the walls of my meetinghouse and I’m sure many others. But isolating the irrational behavior to a congregational context just magnifies the myopic nature of the behavior. Large swaths of the population (I will call them the Panic Posse) are not demanding this behavior only during religious services– the Posse expects it all the time– which means that the 65k strangers within my ward boundaries are somehow responsible for the health and safety of 1k other unidentifiable strangers. That’s just not rational.

    Vaccination reduces the probability of someone over the age of 75 from contracting and dying of COVID by a factor of 12. Using the Johns Hopkins risk calculator for my zip code (Midwest upper-middle class) that gives a vaccinated 78-year-old Caucasian man with a history of cancer and hypertension a 0.007125% probability of contracting and dying from COVID in the next year. That same 78 year old has an absolute 1 year mortality probability of 4.6336%. Step back and look at those numbers. That 78 year old is 650 times more likely to die of anything other than COVID in the next year but we should absolutely be worried about COVID on that elder’s behalf. I understand the Panic Posse seems incapable of basic computation but even those numbers should cause even the most mathematically challenged of the Posse to reconsider their positions. Seriously, how small does that COVID mortality number have to shrink before life returns to normal? And those numbers above are for the most vulnerable.

    In addition, I did a quick search of the scriptures and I found nothing in them regarding vaccination or COVID or surgical masks. That’s a childish and stupid game to play.

  36. Brian:

    I’m not sure you’ve actually read the analogy of the shepherd leaving the 99 behind to seek out the one. The story highlights a couple things. First, the shepherd knows all 100 intimately– there are no “strange” sheep in the herd. Second, he performs an impromptu risk calculation and decides that the risk to the 99 from him leaving them temporarily untended is worth the benefit of retrieving the one. He doesn’t insist that the 99 come along with him (a la the Panic Posse) to help find the one because that would just be insane.

  37. it's a series of tubes says:

    Paul, one thing human behavior demonstrates over and over again: we are very, very poor evaluators of risk on an absolute basis. We often make behavioral changes or form opinions about very low risk, but “scary” things: being eaten by a shark, having a child abducted, suffering a debilitating adverse reaction to a vaccine. At the same time, we routinely ignore much higher risk, but less “scary” things: driving without a seatbelt, choosing a sedentary and overweight lifestyle, eating tons of high sugar processed food.

  38. but we should absolutely be worried about COVID on that elder’s behalf

    Three questions: why is this elder’s death the only thing that matters to you when it comes to COVID? How confident are you that your risk calculation accounts for all current and future variants? How should members of the church respond to a pandemic?

  39. In Utah, where I live, the latest numbers show that hospital intensive care units are at 97.1% capacity. Hospitals consider functional ICU capacity to be 85% when you look not just at the number of empty beds but the full range of resources necessary to give intensive care. Medical caregivers continue to be worn out and used up. Necessary surgeries for a range of lethal conditions continue to be postponed because there is no room in the hospitals for recovery care.

    These are the actual conditions right now, not a hypothetical calculation of risk probability.

  40. Hedgehog: cases are way up in the UK, but deaths remain low (comparable to a mild flu season).

  41. Paul, I’ve read it. And my three graduate degrees in literature aren’t impressed with either your summary, your analysis, or your application of it.

  42. Mark Brown says:

    “Panic Posse” is childish and ridiculous.

    Referring to “the least of these” as “the tail end of the distribution curve” is childish, ridiculous, and evil.

    Maybe you should contact your local temple presidency and ask why they allow temple patrons to foist their responsibility on strangers. Tell them they’re part of the Panic Posse and enlighten them.

  43. Mark Brown says:

    That 75 year old Elder has a much greater chance of dying from Covid-19 than of dying from second-hand smoke. When he goes to Red Lobster for the early bird special, should he expect the management to enforce the guidelines against indoor smoking? Or would that be irrational, computationally challenged, and part of the Panic Posse?

  44. Dsc, typically there is a lag between high rates and hospital admissions (two weeks) and then deaths (another couple of weeks) following behind. Omicron has just hit, and scientists are saying the drop off in protection from the vaccine against this variant is three months as opposed to the six months with delta. Given it takes up to two weeks to get the full efficacy from a vaccine or booster dose are we even going to get boosters finished in time? So sensible precautions like masks and distancing really are required.

  45. Mark Brown:

    Do you have a preferred term as an alternative to Panic Posse? I’m more than willing to use that if it will reduce your hurt and hostility.

    And BTW, I actually had dinner with our local temple president, a retired interventional cardiologist, last week and addressed this issue with him specifically. His response was that neither he nor, to his knowledge, had any of his peers or superiors calculated the risk to that level. Leadership has been encouraged to follow local guidelines so when our county executive (also a physician) finally decides to perform an actual risk calculation we might have some sense of normalcy. Note that Church leadership has basically deferred the decision for social norms at church to local government leadership so please forgive me if I do not view the press release issued by the FP as a benchmark for moral behavior.

  46. please forgive me if I do not view the press release issued by the FP as a benchmark for moral behavior.

    Setting aside the fact that the First Presidency addressed the membership of the church and not the press with its August 2021 letter, what is your benchmark for moral behavior? What medium does someone you sustain as a prophet need to use in order for his message to carry some moral weight in your risk calculus?

  47. peterllc,

    1. Death is not the only important factor with respect to COVID but is is far and away the MOST important. We have zero longitudinal data on how minor (and yes, COVID is minor) infectious diseases impact total lifespan. How many years or months does a strep infection trim off one’s life if one recovers? MRSA? C-DIFF? The common cold? Influenza? Noro? Zika? Malaria? Does each infection produce the same reduction in lifespan or does that variable carry with it a positive or negative correlation to subsequent infections? Historically, and in my opinion correctly, society has decided that those risk calculations are close enough to zero that they should be ignored. What makes COVID any different? I have never heard anyone even attempt to make the argument for treating it differently.

    2. My calculation includes all current data (through 12/13). Playing the future game is genuinely insincere and non-scientific. However, if I were to hypothesize what the future holds I would look to past experience with corona viruses specifically– they tend to evolve to become more virulent with lower mortality. That historical knowledge indicates that those looking to the future and trembling in fear are doing so out of a fear of the unknown and not based on scientific evidence.

    3. Pandemic responses should be based on actual risk calculations. Personally, when this all started I fully supported most of the measures various governments employed. But as data came in, and some of it came pretty early thanks to the gift of the “Diamond Princess”, it became apparent that our initial responses were mostly all the wrong ones but we have failed to adapt our response to the data. I would encourage everyone, including my fellow Mormons, to brush up on their data and math skills so that they are in a better position to assess data and decisions others take in relation to that data. For the last 21 months my family has helped care for our 86 year old neighbor by taking care of most of his chores that require him to venture out into public. We do his grocery shopping, pay his taxes, drop off and pick up his dry cleaning, etc. Bob still goes out but only to socialize with select others who he trusts not to expose him to an unreasonable risk (a determination he makes for himself). That is the model we should be following everywhere.

  48. your food allergy says:

    PaulM, the numbers you posted about covid mortality risk are interesting. When I use that same tool (I assume it’s the same) but for my zip code, I get a much larger number, and it’s also only projected for a 2 week period rather than a year. How did you get a one-year risk?

  49. your food allergy says:

    I’m not sure whether there is an objective definition of “major” vs “minor” infectious diseases, but covid appears to be hovering around the 3rd leading cause of death in the US. I think major is a more appropriate characterization.

  50. perterllc:

    The medium itself is irrelevant. The addressee is irrelevant (especially since the Q15 do not isolate their proclamations to just the membership– they are the prophets and Apostles to all the world). The FP statement earlier in the year basically boiled down to “follow the recommendations of your local government leaders” and follow-up communications with local leaders have pretty much reinforced that admonition. If the admonition is to follow local leadership and I am also free to influence local leadership regarding it’s decisions, then deontologically there is no absolute moral value to the specific content of the press release.

    My benchmark for moral behavior in general? That’s a very big question that really deserves a big response and this is probably not the proper venue to fully answer that question. However, in general I treat morality as a personal measure related to personal decisions. I am more than happy to allow people to judge my morality based on my personal decisions on how I treat others.

  51. Thanks for your response, Paul.

    playing the future game is genuinely insincere and non-scientific

    It is neither insincere nor non-scientific to conclude on the basis of observation that what worked in the past may not work (as well) in the future. There has always been uncertainty about the duration of vaccine protection, and in the real world the duration of the protection provided by the current crop of vaccines has been steadily declining. That’s not fear mongering—that’s science.

    I mean, I get it: a lot of people wanted to get their shot and be done with the pandemic. And all things considered, the vaccines have been great! But breakthrough infections are becoming increasingly common, and for someone who refuses to play the future game, who are you to say mortality will go down when virulence goes up? And even if mortality does go down, spending weeks in quarantine is a drag, being sick is a drag, and not receiving care for run-of-the-mill problems like cancer or bad knees because the hospitals are full is also a drag. If you could help just one person per month/year/whatever avoid that just by putting on a mask for the duration of your interaction, why wouldn’t you?

    At any rate, let’s maintain a sense of perspective in this discussion—being considerate of others in a group setting by wearing a mask during a pandemic caused by an airborne virus is about as onerous as taking off your shoes when invited over to someone’s house for dinner: it might not be what Americans are used to, but it really does keep the floors cleaner.

  52. your food allergy,

    I used the JH tool as the just the starting point using their population risk factor and the individual adjustment as the starting point. I suggest you read the JH bulletin where they lay out their methodology and conclusions which should help you understand how I arrived at the annual factor. In addition, because the JH tool does not distinguish vaccine status one has to employ some Bayesian calculations to arrive at a risk adjusted rate assuming someone is vaccinated versus unvaccinated.

    No there is no hard and fast definition for “major” versus “minor” but it’s pretty safe to use CFR as a good benchmark. Given that for the vast majority of the population the CFR for COVID is less than or equal to influenza it’s pretty safe to categorize cases of COVID identically to how we categorize influenza.

  53. I’m not sure about my ward’s covid response, because I haven’t attended since March 2020. Our bishop is kind and continues to provide Zoom sacrament meeting. And our primary president is kind and remembers my son even though he has never attended primary, he was just about to graduate nursery when covid hit. And our ministering brothers / the ward missionaries are kind and stop by every once in a while to tell us they remember and love us. I’m grateful for all of it.

    I haven’t seen many responses by people with young kids. Mine are 2 and 4. Our youngest has never been to church, we were going to keep her home for 6 months since she was a tiny winter baby and covid hit just as we were ready to take her. People like Brian would tell me that their risks are too small to count, but people like Brian sound myopic and cruel to me. Luckily I haven’t met anyone so callous in my ward, and the people who come by to say hello never judge me for staying home.

  54. Sorry, mistyped there. I meant to reference Paul’s comments, not Brian.

  55. peterllc:

    I genuinely laughed out loud at your shoe analogy– not because I think it silly but because it is so applicable to my life experience. I tend to feel the same way about shoe removal as Frank Costanza (“I don’t take my shoes off for anyone!!!!”) Years back my family relocated to MN where the vast majority of the population are shoe Nazis. I was unaware of this cultural norm when we moved and the only cultural context I had for the practice involved households having work shoes and house shoes (I grew up in a ranching community). I remember the first time I encountered it in MN and I was personally quite offended by the request. I declined and offered to remain on the hard surfaces in the hostess’ house or, if she preferred, I would leave. We had a chance later in the evening to discuss the issue. I explained to her that I wore special insoles in my shoes and that walking around without them, even for a short time, resulted in some pretty lasting pain for me so I always wear shoes. She understood and was happy to make the accommodation. After experiencing the same one or two more times I started bring “house shoes” with me when people would invite me into their homes. More often than not the host or hostess would tell me not to worry about changing. We have since left MN but I still have house shoes to this day.

    I suffer from claustrophobia so wearing a mask is a real chore for me. I can generally endure about 2 minutes before a full-on panic attack ensues which ends invariably with me vomiting. Visits to the dentist are quite interesting for me. My own doctor’s office didn’t believe me the first time I visited during the pandemic and despite my request at check-in for an emesis bag while I wait they wound up cleaning up my leftover lunch. I cannot tell every rando I encounter that little piece of information so my personal adjustment to to masking has been not to go anywhere masks are absolutely necessary and no accommodation for my specific issue can be made. In a lot of respects that is merely an inconvenience. While my county has repeatedly implemented mask mandates the adjacent counties have not so I can shop and live a normal existence as long as I am willing to drive 20 minutes to the county line. But for a long time I could not go to church due to the mask mandate and I really missed that weekly experience (I hate the video alternative).

    Finally, one point of clarification regarding the definition of science. I share the opinion that science is the process of testing hypotheses via empirical observations which eliminates prediction (the future) from the realm of science. We can use prior scientific conclusions to make assumptions about what MAY happen in the future but don’t describe that exercise as scientific. We are swimming in uncharted waters but we kinda know how deep the water is– the measured (as distinguished from actual because not all cases of COVID are documented) CFR for unvaccinated individuals is equal to influenza if you’re under 65 and about twice that of influenza if your are over 65 and if you are vaccinated both have a substantially lower CFR than the flu. Yes, yes, COVID is more virulent and that should give us pause but none of the numbers suggest we should be forcing a host of unproven measures upon others.

  56. your food allergy says:

    PaulM, you seem to have a preference for using CFR to make your points. I suspect that may be because doing so supports your preferred conclusion. I’m sure you know CFRs are estimates with a number of problematic assumptions, and at the very least one shouldn’t compare one vaccinated disease against a non-vaccinated disease. Also, if CFR tells you whether a disease is major or minor, then you believe rabies is the most major infectious disease.

  57. My ward has been very good about wearing masks. There has been one family that doesn’t. The father is a cop, and they always sit in the back. But by and large it is expected.
    Two Sundays ago, an older gentlemen got up and “bore is testimony” about how much he doesn’t like wearing masks and wants the health directives to go away. There wasn’t anything in his testimony about the church or Jesus, just about how he wants to talk face to face again.
    My family won’t rebel against the rules and guidelines, but now that all of our school age children are fully vaccinated, I feel that it’s time to end masking and other health directives, and let the anti-vaxxers get their herd immunity wish.

  58. Paul M: A person like you is the reason my 61-year-old mother is dead, and the reason my 23-year-old sister came close.

    “Within the US population fewer than 3% of individuals even approach the category of “immuno-compromised”’ — speaking of data analysis skills, that means that in any given public space with 17 people (most LDS 2nd hour classes, and basically every sacrament meeting), there’s a better than 50/50 chance that someone in there “approaches the category of ‘immunocompromised.'”

    And that’s, like, a lot. So… I guess… Matthew 23:4, better to risk those people’s lives than lift a finger (or a mask) to ease their burdens, right? If my service-driven, community-leader, universally-beloved mom wanted to survive, she should have just barricaded herself in her house for 9 months, cut herself off from all non-digital contact with the outside world, and waited for it to be over.

    Oh wait, she did. And then she spent last Christmas drowning in her own lung fluid and died before New Year’s.

    Merry Christmas. Enjoy the gift of your unobstructed airway. My mom certainly can’t.

  59. John Mansfield says:

    To my mind, masking without frequent testing is incoherent. When the hazard of contact is judged substantial enough that masks are a prudent precaution, because people might to able unknowingly expose others to a circulating pathogen and masks can cut down on that some, then the members of the group wearing masks should be testing themselves frequently, so they can know, if shown to be infected, that they should not be exposing themselves to others at all.

  60. PaulM,

    It’s understandable to want other people (the immunocompromised, the elderly) to have to forego parts of public life so that you don’t have to because of your claustrophobia. But I’m not sure why the rest of us should be more concerned about your particular concerns than theirs.

  61. Laura, I’m so sorry for your loss.

  62. The further irony, to me, of the argument that people who are immunocompromised should just deal with the inconvenience — speaking for my mom (who can no longer speak for herself) — she *was* dealing with the inconvenience, already. The exact same inconvenience, as a matter of fact, of moving through life with it being a bit harder to breathe.

    For ten years before she died, my mom dealt with a partially obstructed airway. Aside from carrying around oxygen everywhere she went (which, let me tell you, is more inconvenient than a mask), getting adequate care — so she *didn’t* die — ate up about a week of each month.

    Because her life was worth living. While dealing with that inconvenience (and chronic pain, and all the rest) she lived a rich and full life. She nursed a handful of neighbors through their (or their children’s) end-of-life care and made dozens or hundreds of baby blankets for her local NICU (she lost a child in infancy). She developed elementary and middle-school English, Social Studies and History curricula for fun and spent her days tutoring children and working at a school. She was always helping someone plan or carry out a wedding — especially brides who didn’t have family to support them. She managed to layer all this with being a universally-beloved community pillar, mother and grandmother. She flew all over the country to attend the births of her grandchildren and stayed for a month at a time to provide *extensive* childcare and support. Everyone loved the sound of her trusty oxygen tank, because it meant my mom had arrived and whatever-it-was was about to go a lot better.

    So suggesting that my mom should “deal with the inconvenience” of being immunocompromised rings a bit hollow. When I hear people say they want the immunocompromised to “deal with the inconvenience,” what they’re really saying — usually without realizing it — is they feel the lives of the immunocompromised are less rich, full or valuable than theirs; they want the immunocompromised to disappear (not die, necessarily) so as to not interfere with the richness, fullness or value of their fully-abled lives.

    To which I say, look past the end of your nose. The obstruction level of your airway doesn’t determine your quality of life, you do.

  63. Thanks, Marian.

  64. your food allergy:

    I don’t use CFR because it helps my case– I use it because it is an objective measure of risk. The other factor is reproduction. Do you have better suggestions? For the individual, rabies is indeed the most dangerous disease to contract because it is almost always fatal. Just one infection ends life. An individual would have to contract 500 infections (that’s a low-side assumption because it assumes that recovery from one infection does not reduce the risk of subsequent infections) of COVID to reach that same statistical certainty which, despite the very high R for COVID, is statistically improbable (85 year lifespan would require 6 infections per year). Independently, both scenarios are statistically close to zero. Rabies because it is statistically rare overall (55,000 worldwide infections and deaths on a world population of 7.5 billion) and COVID because it is rarely fatal. The inability to do that simple math and draw any conclusions just blows my mind.

  65. your food allergy says:

    Yes, I have a better suggestion. Number of dead people. No other pathogen comes close over the last year.

  66. Come on, Paul. You’re not the only ‘smart’ person here (or anywhere for that matter) with views on Covid.

  67. Laura,

    You don’t know me nor anything about my behavior so how can you draw any conclusions about how my behavior like mine would contribute to your own mother’s death?

    And your math is wrong. If it were 3% then that would be 1 in 33. The real number is closer to 1% which means 1 in 100. Not 1 in 17.

    Kristine:

    That’s not an argument. My position is that proscribing behavior to address the imagined risks to a microscopically small portion of the population is irrational and uncharitable. You are free to actually make an argument for your position. And spitting out “because it’s the nice thing to do” is not an argument.

  68. Paul, you’re wrong, we do know something about you. You’ve revealed quite a bit about your behavior–refusal to take off shoes in an aggressive manner, only revealing your reasoning later, for example. Also, your claustrophobia. Also you behavior in this forum. Also something about where you grew up and the labels that you place on people, etc, etc, etc. Now, whether that’s enough to make certain assumptions might be another matter. But, then again, perhaps it’s enough to make some.

  69. Laura, I am afraid I must disagree with your math, oh so slightly

    If there is a 3% chance someone is immunocompromised, and the sample size is 17, then using the binomial distribution (that contributors would be aware of if they know what Bayesian analysis is) the prob of having 1 or more people that are immunocompromised is ONLY 41%, not 50% by my reckoning.

    Your point stands.

    It is a far freaking way from 0.

  70. To my mind, masking without frequent testing is incoherent.

    Agreed. Where I live, PCR tests are readily available, free at the point of use and the results are available within about 12 hours. Weekly testing—in addition to vaccines and mask—is part of my pandemic response. But in many other parts of the world, testing is expensive and or hard to come by. Masks, on the other hand, are cheap and readily available pretty much everywhere. A mask isn’t the be-all, end-all mitigation measure, of course, but it sure is an easy one.

    Yes, yes, COVID is more virulent and that should give us pause but none of the numbers suggest we should be forcing a host of unproven measures upon others.

    Agreed on all accounts. In my estimation, masks are a proven if imperfect measure. If we had to chose between masks and more effective measures, I would of course prefer everyone get on board with the more effective measures. But if we’re not going to take more effective measures, then I think a mask ought to be the minimum for indoor gatherings.

  71. I think lots of people have covid fatigue. I am not sure how to think or respond. Hopefully it ends next year it ends like most viruses do. There seems to be more contention in this thread than what I have seen in real life over Covid. I will say that it seems that the unvaccinated are getting hit hard in my circles. The vaccinated not as much. Ultimatly I think Pres Nelson is right about vacvinations. I do not see anything ever in the sctiptures or any LDS sources that could possibly be considered anti vax. So the source of anti vax sentiments is based on non LDS sources.

  72. Some of the comments on here are unkind. Holding a knife to your throat of those who are vulnerable if you don’t wear a mask? Accusing another poster of contributing to the death of one’s mother because of his approach to a disease, which is different than her own, and driven by data? Wow.

    The data on mask wearing is extremely weak. There has been only one randomized control trial of surgical masks and that study did not show evidence that mask wearing helped to decrease the risk of spread of COVID. “Experts” were quick to criticize that study by stating that community spread at the time of the study was small, so effect size could not be reliably interpreted. Other studies on mask wearing are observational, based on surveys in person, on the phone, or over the internet, meta-analysis of these types of studies, and correlational reviews. Correlation does not equal causation. All of the studies, other than the randomized control trial above, state that mask wearing “may” help in reducing the risk of spread. One MMWR report stated a talking point in their conclusion because the data was weak by stating that “me wearing a mask helps you and you wearing a mask helps me.” That is not science. That is a talking point.

    This is not to mention which types of masks are used. There are cloth masks, surgical masks, and respirators (or N95 masks). Here is what UpToDate has to say about these different masks:

    “Despite the variability in filtration efficacy of different masks (respirators, medical masks, cloth masks) in experimental settings, data on clinical efficacy differences in preventing transmission of SARS-CoV-2 are lacking.”

    I have had COVID before the vaccines, I have had both Moderna shots as well as my booster. My family has as well, including my children. I ask all of my patients to get the vaccines and speak with them in a respectful manner if they have concerns about the vaccines and listen to those concerns. Calling them stupid, conspiracy theorists, or even accomplices to murder is not helpful nor will it change minds.

    I wear masks in settings where my local government asks me to. Not because I think they are helpful or they work, because they don’t. Especially in someone like me who has had COVID, and is fully vaccinated. But because it is a signal to others. And that is what it is at this point in this phase of the pandemic. A signal. We need to learn how to live with this virus, because it is not going away. There will be many variants after Omicron. And because of that, we need to be a little more understanding and show grace to those with whom we disagree. Citing scripture to support how you respond to this pandemic? Claiming Jesus would respond the way that you do to COVID? Quit taking His name in vain. Just stop. Please.

  73. I’m not a doctor. I live in CA. My kids wear a mask to school every day. All I can say is, compared to two years ago, there is a lot less sickness in our lives than previous. Contrast to my sister’s kids in UT, where masks are not worn at school, and there are perpetual runny noses in her home. Seems masks do SOMETHING. But this is purely anecdotal.

    I personally don’t feel the need to wear a mask. My social life is not exciting, I’m boosted, and now all my kids are vaccinated. I’ve avoided COVID so far. But where I live, people still wear masks everywhere. So I comply because I am trying to be one with my community. At best, masks work. At worst, they are inconvenient. So where’s the beef? Wear the mask.

    My kids have not once complained about wearing a mask all day at school every day. Yet grown Mormon adults throw such a temper tantrum at wearing a mask for 15 minutes buying groceries. I had no idea my tribe was so weak, given how much we love to point out our strong pioneer heritage.

  74. Another MD: “We need to learn how to live with this virus, because it is not going away.”

    This is exactly what we are doing. Living with the virus. We are not going back into lockdown, but we are also not going back to life without the virus. We are in the middle. Everything is open, but masking, social distancing, testing, and vaccinations are being encouraged. To me, THIS is the response we need, and I support this.

    What is your solution to living with the virus?

  75. @Chadwick, when masks were required at schools last year my kids went all year and never got Covid (or anything else) and I didn’t know a single kid who got Covid at school. This year masks were not required and other than my oldest (who is vaccinated) they all got Covid (as did pretty much all my friends’ kids). There’s really no place other than school they could have gotten it. They had to shut our elementary school down for a week because the % of cases was so high.

    But in any event, this post was asking for descriptions of how wards handled Covid and as far as I can tell has gone far, far, far, far, far, far, far afield of that.

  76. John Mansfield says:

    My fear is that three years from now, elementary schools will be full of children who have never been inside a school with bare-faced classmates. That fear comes from the various ugly measures to counter terrorism that were implemented 20 and 25 years ago that have never gone away.

    My hope is that with mid-term elections coming up, the current administration sometime in March will latch onto some statistical inflection point as a good excuse to fly a jet onto a carrier deck and declare “Mission Accomplished!” Detractors of the current administration will pivot to become diehards complaining of lack of effort to control an epidemic that isn’t over yet, while most will embrace the permission to not care about coronaviruses anymore, for good, regardless of how many people may get sick in 2022. (A variation on fall 2020 when the incumbent president, who had lost the mandate of heaven and brought a plague on the land, claimed that vaccines were almost ready (so you should vote for him), and people who didn’t want him re-elected figured the promise of vaccines real soon now was empty blather, and the presidential and vice-presidential candidates of the opposing party warned that the vaccines could be dangerous. Then the incumbent lost the election, within a week vaccines were announced, the incoming administration embraced them, and many supporters of the previous administration became wary of the vaccines that the previous administration had been promising.)

  77. Another MD is behind the times on the efficacy of masks.

    https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02457-y

  78. Aussie Mormon says:

    The biggest thing I see with the “masks don’t work” arguments is that they lump everything together.
    Ill fitting masks may not stop aerosol spread, but they can stop or greatly reduce the other methods of transmission (See diagram) https://www.bmj.com/content/375/bmj-2021-065312

  79. John Mansfield:

    I should correct my comment somewhat. My kids in CA can take off their mask outside, so lunch and recess are mask-free (honestly everyone should move to CA, who doesn’t love being able to play outdoors all year?) They have seen their friends faces plenty. So your fear is unfounded. The kids are fine. They recognize each other notwithstanding the mask.

    Circling back to the OP (thanks Elisa for the reminder) it seems like the Church’s response to the pandemic is to follow the local guidelines. The prophet I guess is going to stay in his lane on this one, as the conservatives say.

  80. Another MD says:

    C. Keen.

    Thank you for a link to that study. But it does not show what you think it does. What it does report is that the decrease for risk wearing a surgical mask was a “modest 9%”. With that modest risk reduction, it does not say that it is statistically significant. Also, it stated that cloth masks don’t work. The percentage of surgical mask wearers to those with cloth masks in society is not great.

    What is more is that neither the lab findings, study design, or results were peer reviewed.

    I’ll stick with my analysis of the data as well as that of UpToDate which is a health care database of data, research, and the latest medical practice.

    Again, I wear masks because they are a signal. Not because they are effective, but because I am willing to go along with what the current government regulations are, even though I believe they are flawed.

  81. The study C. Keen referenced was recently accepted by the journal Science: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abi9069. The effects for surgical masks were significant at either the 5% or 10% levels, depending on the regression specification. Sample sizes were smaller for cloth masks leading to more uncertainty about their effect. But far from concluding cloth masks don’t work, they caution, “although the point estimates for cloth masks suggests that they reduce risk, the confidence limits include both an effect size similar to surgical masks and no effect at all.”

  82. Geoff - Aus says:

    So if a surgeon operates on you without a mask?

  83. Another MD, In Austria we have to wear FFP2 masks, for what it’s worth. Of course, Austria had more cases per capita than the US before going into lockdown again last month, so clearly a mask won’t solve all the problems of a pandemic—human behavior remains the key. But people aren’t going to stop playing sardines any times soon, and a mask strikes me as an acceptable compromise between requiring vaccination/testing and just getting on with life.

    And you are right about masks being a signal, which for social beings isn’t nothing. I mean, I work with wood and probably take my lungs more seriously than most. When I’m sanding, I use a dust extractor and an FFP3 respirator. So I get the eyerolling at ill-fitting cloth masks—they really don’t do much. But when I’m at church, seeing the people I share a room with all signalling they are willing to make simple adjustments to account for extraordinary circumstances makes me feel good about them. Surely such good vibes and a sense of common cause are not out of place as part of a church’s pandemic response.

  84. Interesting comments from Another MD. Thanks.

    The idea of signaling is important. I agree that we need to learn how to live with the disease. Sending signals seems like it might be a useful way to think about the process of adapting to life with covid. Even if we can’t clearly see the path forward, and even when we can’t have productive conversations about the problem, at least we can send signals. In fact, we probably can’t avoid sending signals.

    The question is what we intend to signal. That’s where your comments are ambiguous, Another MD. You talk about moving forward, but your tone is pretty grumpy. It’s not clear to me whether by using a mask you intend to signal solicitous concern for people around you or grudging compliance with an onerous mandate. Or is your signal something different? I don’t mean to be critical of you when I say this. I’m observing that it’s hard to figure these things out.

  85. Another MD says:

    Geoff, I believe that there is a clear difference between a surgeon wearing a mask in an operating theatre and me wearing one as an individual at my local supermarket.

    As a person who had a very mild case of COVID before vaccines were available, has received both of his Moderna doses as well as a booster, and as someone who fortunately has no comorbidities that would place me at increased risk of infection, I believe that I am about as immune to both contracting the virus and spreading it as I possibly can be as of December 17th, 2021.

    Loursat, with respect to signaling, it is not in my nature to be confrontational. When I deal with patient’s in my office, the threat of having certain medical conditions has real physical and psychological effect on individuals. I am very aware of that psychological effect and want to put my patients at ease about the conditions I speak with them about on a daily basis. That is why, when I am at church, in a supermarket, or in any public venue indoors, I wear a mask. Not because I believe that my mask is effective medically, but because it is a signal to others that I take their health (and mine) seriously. I never wear a mask outside, nor should anyone really, if they don’t have a medical condition which places them at risk for bad outcomes from the virus and they are fully vaccinated.

    I understand the reasoning behind why the mask mandates are in place. I wish that individuals who were vaccinated could be allowed to not wear them indoors. But, if that were the case, I am not sure why the unvaccinated would suddenly get religion and wear masks. Thus, they remain in certain locales. In recent days, the democratic governor of Colorado lifted the mask mandate in that state and proposed that individuals who did not get the vaccine at this point in the pandemic are placing their own health at risk voluntarily. I tend to agree with that sentiment. The vaccine is free, widely available, and effective. Unfortunately, the unvaccinated also are the petri dishes for mutations which will continue to plague society. Which is why I encourage all of my patients to get vaccinated. Just last night, I was able to persuade my 93 year old father to get his booster, as he had previously been reluctant.

    Elisa said earlier that we had gone far afield from the OP. I don’t think that we have strayed far as the gauge to which many commenters judge their wards response to the pandemic is by how masks are dealt with. This virus is not going anywhere. Omicron is just the latest iteration of the virus. There will be many more in the years and decades to come. What I find miraculous is how technology can analyze the virus and create updates to the vaccines in a matter of months to help stay ahead of the changes it makes.

  86. Mark Brown says:

    This virus has killed 1 of 100 Americans over the age of 65, for a 99% survival rate. For comparison, 98% of Americans who landed at Normandy on D-Day survived. Question: Are people who think D-Day was dangerous irrational, computationally challenged, and part of the Panic Posse?

    Here’s the thing, friends. Zion-building isn’t about rationality or utilitarianism. Most of the things we do at church cannot be justified on that basis. Look at the following examples.

    1. What is the justification for the hundreds of hours we spend putting on a Pinewood Derby?
    2. How many millions of dollars and how many millions of hours have church members expended storing wheat, powdered milk and dry beans in their basements? The odds that they will ever live on that storage for a year are lower than 001%.
    3. How many people have died from drinking coffee and tea? Yet we still strictly abstain. Irrational!
    4. Given the shocking ignorance on display in every gospel doctrine class, it’s easy to argue that from a utilitarian standpoint, every minute of Primary, youth classes, and seminary has been a complete waste.

    Every ward has children who struggle to learn or who don’t learn much at all. Every ward has a dozen children or adults who are disruptive. A former ward had several families with deaf parents or children. It was difficult, but the ward put a lot of effort in staffing ASL interpreters in all the various classes. My current ward has 4 people in wheelchairs who require special accommodation, and whose occasional seizures are loud and disruptive. Most ward have people with gluten sensitivity, so in the sacrament we provide a non-gluten option. Which of all these people should we tell to buzz off, solve their own problems, and quit burdening the rest of us?

    The simple fact is that every one of us is, in some way, “at the tail end of the distribution curve”. How do we decide which people to serve and which ones to throw away? It certainly cannot be decided by who is most troublesome. The worth of souls is great, and we are in covenant with each other, to bear one another’s burdens.

    PaulM’s reckoning says that about 3% of people are immuno-compromised. The last time I was clerk we averaged about 200 people in attendance. I am computationally challenged, but I think that works out to 6. Six beloved children of God whose lives are endangered. If we tell them to quit “foisting their problems” off on the rest of us, we are taking a giant step away from Zion. How can anybody seriously dispute that?

  87. Geoff - Aus says:

    I live in Queensland where we have had 7 covid deaths, but we are opening our borders to interstate, and international travel under pressure from our more conservative federal government.
    The opening started when we passed 80% vacinated. Our government has asked us to wear masks in enclosed public spaces, but not specified churches. Just recieved an email from the stake president saying wear masks to church, and get vacinated.
    Here we are told if 2 people are wearing masks and 1 is infectious, and there is not prolonged exposure, there is 70% less chance of the second person being infected than if no masks.

  88. A Fellow Traveler says:

    Dying is not the only thing that can result from a covid infection. You can be left with long covid after even a mild infection. Between 10%-30% of people who have had covid are left with lingering symptoms (long covid).

    Long covid resembles Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyalatis, in fact many long covid patients are given that diagnosis. It can bring your life to a complete stop.

    I went from being a full-time teacher who spent weekends selling jewelry at a historical reenactment group to being barely able to go from my bed to the couch to watch some TV. Worst of all is the “brain fog.” I used to have an almost eidetic memory; now I frequently can’t remember what I ate 2 hours ago. My thoughts, when I can think them, seem to leak out my ears. I get sick more easily and stay sick longer than everyone else around me. You can google all the rest of the symptoms, if you’re interested. .

    And this has been my reality for over 20 years now.

    Even a mild case of long covid completely changes the trajectory and possibilities of the rest of your life.

    Covid is a horrible way to die. Long covid is a terrible way to have to live.

  89. John Mansfield says:

    Here is another story to add to the pile. My wife died in October 2018, and in the eleven months preceding that, she was admitted to the hospital several times and also had many visits for out-patient treatments. In the spring of 2020, I was so glad for her that she had experienced all that in 2018 without the 2020 hospital hardships being added to all that she bore, and as I thought on that, it saddened me to know that there were others two years later going through the same hard things she had, with the additional difficulties of being alone without friends or family allowed inside, and all the staff working to comfort the afflicted dealing with additional constraints in their interactions with patients.

    I called my long-time optometrist that spring about picking up eyeglasses he had prescribed a few weeks earlier, and I learned that since I had seen him, his mother died, one of the almost three million who die in my nation each year whether there is an epidemic or not. I am not very perceptive, but it seemed like it would be useful to him for me to say that which I wrote in the paragraph above. After I did so, the optometrist sobbed, “It was just awful.” He hadn’t been able to be with his mother in the weeks before she died: no one who loved her had been able to. The church congregation she had been part of for decades could not gather for a funeral.

    Our measures to reduce contagion have been heavily borne by some, and the lighter burdens exacted far and wide should not be too quickly dismissed as trivialities.

  90. Thank you, John, for identifying another of the terrible facets of this pandemic. I take some comfort that I was able to hold my father’s hand to the bitter end when he died several years ago, and can only imagine the horror that those who are separated from their loved ones during their hours of greatest need must experience.

  91. Just wondering says:

    Another MD
    Here is a link to an article that discusses the efficacy of masks. It seems to indicate that several studies have been done during the pandemic which provide evidence that masks do limit the spread of covid.
    https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2776536.

  92. Another MD:
    How much do you know about Antibody-dependent Enhancement?

    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41564-020-00789-5

    I have a friend who was diagnosed with this a decade ago and takes HIV drugs to keep from ending up in the hospital with every cold and flu virus she comes across.
    Some are saying that Omicron is actually ADE.

  93. Edward Rouse says:

    Even the elect will be deceived. Philosophy mingled with scripture. Do you brothers and sisters read what you have written? Then again, you are up in arms about Russia, China and all the tyrannical countries on the earth. Then, you accept in an instant Fauci and the lies given you by this Liberal leadership.
    Joshua said it best for my way of thinking. But, go ahead an literally put a cloth or paper product over your nose. Well…what can i say.

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