First, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Cathy Stein, Ph.D. I’m an associate professor of epidemiology*, my Ph.D. is in epidemiology, I teach an undergraduate course on epidemiology, and my research is focused in infectious disease research. But first and foremost, I am a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. I believe in the sovereignty of God and that the Bible is His inerrant Word. My faith lays the foundation for my worldview. Finally, I must note that my views do not reflect those of my university.
My goal in this post is to provide a perspective on COVID19, driven by the science, that you may have not seen before. My perspective is also supported by Scripture, and I’ll provide that as well.
Is COVID19 a super scary disease?
No, it is not. There’s a lot to this apparent scariness, so let me address each aspect.
First, prevalence studies in large populations have shown us many things. For example, many people that test positive for COVID19 have no symptoms. Many people who carry the virus never get sick from it (exhibit symptoms). People are commonly “carriers” for other pathogens too, and would test positive if there was a population-wide testing program for those other pathogens. Serologic surveys suggest that many more people have been exposed and mounted an antibody response, again never showing symptoms. Natural immunity is a great thing. Moreover, the state databases do not remove individuals who have confirmed false-positive results, and some also include individuals who showed non-specific symptoms such as cough but no other positive test findings. At the time of this writing, ~5.1% of Ohio’s population was counted as ‘positive’ in the coronavirus dashboard…this is actually a relatively low number. (Ohio coronavirus numbers taken from https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/covid-19/dashboards. For comparison, the prevalence of obesity in the US is >40% depending on age group, the prevalence of heart disease in the US is ~48%, and the prevalence of ADHD in children is 9.4%)
But isn’t it very severe? If you listen to the media and the government, it certainly sounds like it. But actually, it isn’t severe based on objective metrics. Again, at this writing, ~5.6% of those people that tested positive were hospitalized in Ohio. Now, this number is inflated, because it counts people who were hospitalized for any reason and tested positive for COVID19 at any time (the data clearly shows this) (https://ohiostatehousenews.com/2020/05/governor-dewine-suppresses-data-disproving-covid-19-policies/, see also analyses presented by Kathryn Huwig on facebook, which are easily replicated by downloading the Ohio data). So, that’s actually not a high number. According to many studies, including some by the CDC, the infection fatality rate (number of people who die with COVID19 ÷ number of people diagnosed with COVID19) is less than 1% in people less than 70 years old, and it is less than 5% in people over age 70. The CDC has also done a study showing that most COVID19 deaths (>90%) occurred in people with multiple comorbidities (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm#Comorbidities). Additional research shows that people with multiple comorbidities have a weaker immune response to SARS-CoV-2 https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.11.25.20235150v1).
What about transmission from asymptomatic people? Is that reason to fear? First, keep in mind that in epidemiology, there are different types of studies. Case studies focus on specific events of clinical interest. There are plenty of these studies that suggest asymptomatic (or perhaps more likely pre-symptomatic) people spread COVID19. Those are isolated accounts and do not demonstrate or enumerate all the situations where asymptomatic people don’t spread infection. If you look at the literature at larger population-based studies there is a much different story. My review of the literature suggests that the rate of transmission from asymptomatic individuals is less than 6% (and in many cases, the rate is zero). (references cited at the end of this article that I wrote, https://healthfreedomohio.org/News-Views/9354321) For example, a large population-based study in Wuhan identified over 300 asymptomatic individuals with SARS-CoV2, and none of them spread the infection (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-19802-w . In epidemiology, large studies carry more weight than case studies.
People get sick, but these statistics very much resemble influenza. There have been years with even higher influenza hospitalization rates, even exceeding hospital capacity, but those didn’t get media attention or invoke shutdowns of businesses and church closures (https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/17/a-fiasco-in-the-making-as-the-coronavirus-pandemic-takes-hold-we-are-making-decisions-without-reliable-data/ ). And the scientific literature also suggests that influenza is spread by asymptomatic people. Much of fear in COVID19 is that healthy individuals might be spreading infection, and while the scientific literature shows this phenomenon occurs with other infectious diseases, we have not seen mask mandates and lockdowns during flu season and other outbreaks. Even so, should we as Christians fear death? If you have put your faith in Jesus, there is a great reward after death (Philippians [1:21]).
What about masks?
The research on the effectiveness of masks in preventing viral transmission has been in the literature for several years predating the COVID19 “pandemic.” Studies considering COVID19 do not differ from those previously published. I coordinated a systematic review of the scientific literature on masks, and we found that not only does the literature suggest that masks are ineffective against viral transmission, masks could also adversely affect the health of the mask wearer (https://healthfreedomohio.org/all_about_masks). This is very clearly seen in the data as it unfolds. In Ohio, a state-wide mask mandate was put in place on July 23. While case numbers were already declining at that time, they continued to decline for a couple of months after that, and now the numbers are rapidly increasing. Even government agents observing mask compliance in businesses see 94% compliance. So there is no evidence of mask mandates translating into an impact on COVID19 case counts, and by implication, spread of COVID19.
Also, keep in mind that in “normal” circumstances, only sick people wear masks. The idea of everyone wearing masks is based on this concept of asymptomatic transmission… which as I point out above, is exceedingly rare.
But isn’t it “loving my neighbor” to wear a mask? First, I’ve already outlined above that transmission of infection from asymptomatic people is rare, and that is the entire premise over an entire population wearing masks. Second, I’ve outlined above that the literature and data show that masks don’t work in preventing viral transmission (but again, healthy people are likely not transmitting virus anyway). Third, we all know that masks are a visual reminder of this pandemic, and as such, are a symbol of fear, and I’ve also outlined above that this virus is not the scary killer the media and government portray it to be. So, one way to answer this question is with questions: Is it loving to mislead your neighbor? Is it loving to perpetuate a fearful narrative? No, because scripture clearly speaks against deception (Exodus [20:16] and Exodus 23:1-2). In fact, Jesus called out the Pharisees on “virtual signaling” in Matthew 15. Saying “I wear a mask because I love my neighbor” is a misapplication of scripture and disseminates fear. There is no fear in love (1 John [4:18]). Face coverings also inhibit our ability to fellowship with other believers, including singing worship songs, which is an important part of being in the body of Christ (Colossians [3:16]). To be clear, if you wear a mask to comply with a government mandate so you can shop, etc., that’s a different motivation than saying you do it because you love your neighbor, because there is no fear in love.
But the experts say…??? When someone says “the experts all agree”, they are lying because the experts never agree. There is always debate in science. Indeed, thousands of infectious disease and public health experts have come out in opposition to the government’s severe restrictions (https://gbdeclaration.org/). It is also worth noting that the experts have changed their minds on policy recommendations numerous times. For example, this article nicely illustrates Dr. Anthony Fauci’s continued contradictions on matters including the use of face masks https://thenewamerican.com/magazine/tna3620/page/91715.
But God is not the author of confusion, the devil is (1 Corinthians [14:33], Philippians 4:7, Galatians [5:22]). God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind! (2 Timothy 1:7). And lastly, why do Christians follow the “science” presented by individuals who don’t believe in a biblical account of creation in the first place? While they might state that the science supports that life begins at conception, they support embryonic stem cell research. If they call themselves Christians, but their actions don’t line up with the Bible, are they a proper example? (Psalm 14:1, Matthew [12:33]-35, Galatians 6:7, Romans 12:2). As a scientist that works in academia, let me tell you, most scientists make fun of our Christian faith. Don’t choose to follow the views of people whose worldview is based on something opposed to the Bible. There are enough scientists doing GOOD science with an understanding of how God created the world you can listen to.
What Should You Do?
Reflect on 2 Timothy 1:7. Note how Scripture tells us to not have a “spirit of fear”, but implores us to have a “sound mind”. As I’ve outlined above, COVID19 has a survival rate >95%. People have survived far worse diseases with far lower survival rates. You put yourself at risk every time you drive in a car, or eat food (think about every news report you’ve heard about foodborne illness outbreaks). Our Lord has given us a mission to share the gospel. If we live in fear of death, that weakens our testimony. Remember, the Lord Jesus did not fear lepers, and leprosy was (and continues to be) a highly contagious infectious disease. Not only did He heal them, but He touched them. He showed no fear, nor did He “socially distance”. If you have serious complicating conditions, take precautions and stay home if you must.
How does one have a “sound mind”? Seek truth. When you find “experts” contradicting themselves, maybe those aren’t the experts to listen to. Hebrews [10:25] does not have exceptions written in, yet these “experts” and government leaders would have you believe that worshiping God is “selfish”. There are many scientists, health professionals, and grassroots citizens spreading a message of hope and the truth of what the data actually show. Both the literature and the media reports are vast, and difficult to wade through. When reading these reports, remove the fear and preconceptions you have from what the government and media have told you previously, and try to read things objectively with a “sound mind”.
Lastly, reflect on the entirety of Hebrews [10:25]. We are to only not forsake the assembling of ourselves, but we are to do it more so as Christ’s coming approaches. No matter your eschatology, every day we inch closer to tribulation. Society needs the hope of Jesus Christ now more than ever.
Written by Cathy Stein, Ph.D.