(RNS) — On Sunday (Sept. 18), President Joe Biden boldly declared “The pandemic is over,” as if the boldness of his tone might bend actuality to his will. “In case you discover, nobody’s sporting masks,” he mentioned. “Everyone appears to be in fairly good condition.”
With this blunt assertion, the president casually swept apart the menace posed by a virus that continues to flow into broadly and kill a whole lot of our neighbors every day. He additionally made life considerably harder for spiritual leaders like me.
Clergy and others charged with the assist of a religion group are pressured to make choices on daily basis about methods to hold our individuals protected. At many instances in current months, it feels as if public well being officers have deserted us.
It’s not simply Biden. The general public transportation authority in New York, the place I dwell and work, lately lifted its mandate requiring masks on subways, commuter trains and buses. On Twitter, Gov. Kathy Hochul posted a cheeky graphic depicting individuals in various states of masking. “You do you!” the general public ordinance advised subsequent to an outline of somebody with a masks over his nostril, mouth agape. “You do you” now seems to be the nation’s official COVID-19 coverage.
However “You do you” has by no means been the gospel. Many times, Jesus aligned himself with essentially the most weak members of his society: widows, youngsters, the poor, the chronically ailing. He makes it clear that the measure of our faithfulness isn’t how we offer for individuals who are thriving, however how we fiercely love our neighbors, particularly essentially the most weak.
Biden’s declaration that “everyone appears to be in fairly good condition” flatly ignores the people who find themselves nonetheless struggling or most in danger. It’s definitely not true for the almost 3,000 Individuals who died final week.
With COVID-19 nonetheless swirling in our communities, these sorts of public statements make it more durable to implement insurance policies that health experts caution are still crucial. Like many pastors, I’m instantly conscious of what number of in my congregation are weak to this virus. Aged parishioners, immunocompromised of us, members preventing most cancers — these of us and extra want insurance policies that do all the pieces we will to guard them.
That’s why our church remains to be requiring vaccinations and masks to worship in particular person. Love calls for greater than “You do you.”
As in each group, ours consists of some who lengthy to elevate these necessities and take away their masks. When Biden blithely declares “the pandemic is over,” he makes it that a lot more durable to advocate for what God calls us to do for communal well-being. With out pointers from the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention and town that recommend acceptable warning, organizations like mine should stroll this highway alone.
These shortsighted proclamations don’t simply abandon group leaders. They provide false confidence to our individuals. For months I’ve heard misinformation like “In case you’ve already had COVID you don’t have to fret about getting it once more“ or “Masks don’t actually try this a lot to cease the unfold” or “COVID isn’t any extra harmful than the flu.”
The web is rife with “various information,” and when cities repeal masks ordinances on public transport and the president prematurely declares victory, it feeds the lies that deceive individuals in regards to the seriousness of this menace. Whereas it’s simple guilty individuals within the pews or on the road for not pursuing higher sources for well being data, the reality is that they have been betrayed by wildly inconsistent public well being messaging.
It is probably not widespread to inform individuals what they don’t need to hear: that COVID-19 remains to be killing a whole lot of individuals on daily basis, that tens of millions are affected by lengthy COVID-19 signs and that we run a critical threat of cultivating new viral strains by letting it infect our communities. However the objective of public well being just isn’t reputation. Its objective is to offer individuals the information they should hold themselves and their neighbors protected.
My considerations will not be solely skilled. I undergo from continual respiratory points and consequently am significantly weak to extreme issues from COVID-19. Like many disabled Individuals, I discover myself questioning the place I match into our authorities’s imaginative and prescient for the nation. When individuals determine to not get vaccinated and boosted, or to take away their masks, they make it extra possible that they may inadvertently unfold the virus to somebody like me, who can unfold it to my household and group. The central lie of “You do you” is that you simply’re not simply making a selection for your self; you’re additionally making a selection for me.
I’m pragmatic. I perceive that many individuals would like to not masks up. I’m effective with individuals taking their very own dangers, going to eating places, theaters or events, making selections that really feel protected to them. Disabled individuals can select to not go to a theater; we will’t determine to recuse ourselves from public life. That is why the choice to take away common sense well being precautions from areas like buses and trains is especially egregious.
Celebrating our current elevated freedom shouldn’t imply deserting collective solidarity. What we discovered within the early days of the pandemic remains to be true now: We’re solely as protected as our collective will to prioritize our neighbors’ well being above private comfort. And it’s authorities’s duty to implement insurance policies that encourage communal security.
Saying that “the pandemic is over” doesn’t make these phrases true, any greater than flying a “Mission Completed” banner ended the battle in Iraq. The American individuals deserve higher.
(The Rev. Jacqui Lewis is senior minister of Center Collegiate Church in Manhattan and creator of “Fierce Love.” The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially replicate these of Faith Information Service.)