DS's open letter to the district regarding COVID 19

March 14, 2020

Dearly Beloved,

Most, if not all, of us are spending time in prayer and preparation. As I write, there are 2 presumptive cases of COVID 19 in Maine sheltering at home. (Presumptive means they have tested positive in Maine, but it has not yet been confirmed by the national lab.)  We all have friends and families whose daily circumstances (work, school, social practices, physical space) are changing far more extensively and rapidly than we have experienced before. Bishop Devadhar shared with all of us earlier this week. (Read the Bishop's notice here). And I appreciate a reminder from my colleague, Jackie Brannen, “we do not face this pandemic alone. God is surely with us.”  

My soul has been fed in the past 24 hours by evidence of God’s grace at work: calm voices in the storm, Maine UMCs strategizing how to keep food pantry resources flowing, health care workers giving all they can to the needs of their patients, pastors planning with church leaders for their own particular context, people becoming aware of how intricately God has woven human community. 

Here are excerpts from a “Not-So-Brief Update” post on 3/13/2020 by Dr. Dora Anne Mills, a senior VP at Maine Health.  

It has been an extremely hectic couple of days…. Based on the spread across the country, we are clearly in a transition period moving into community transmission (meaning people identified with COVID-19 who do not have known travel or contact with another infected person). Maine CDC on Thursday reported the first presumptively positive case in Maine. Today, another Mainer tested presumptively positive. There are also at least 65 negative tests. ….. NH DHHS reports they now have 6 who have tested positive, all have identified risk factors (e.g. travel or contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient and have stayed in isolation). NH patients are all in western or southern NH, with two in Rockingham County, which is adjacent to York County, Maine. Over the last few days, the number of cases in MA, VT, New Brunswick, and Quebec as well as most states in the country have steadily increased with increasing evidence of community transmission. With more testing available and more disease spread, we can expect these numbers to increase fairly quickly, and likely very soon. 

What can we do, besides what has already been shared previously? CDC guidance for Florida, which like Maine is an older state and is dependent on tourism, emphasizes a team effort of every individual and every organization taking responsibility to protect those at highest risk and to reduce the epidemic surge to preserve the healthcare system. Here are highlights from the guidance:

Individuals at risk of severe illness (including older adults and persons of any age with underlying serious health conditions) should stay at home as much as possible; avoid all non-essential air travel and cruise travel; and avoid gatherings or other situations of potential exposures, including church attendance and social events with 10 or more people as much as possible. Yes, if you’re at risk for severe illness, do not be in a group of 10 or more people…..

For churches and other faith communities, they recommend no gatherings >250 and any smaller gatherings that may bring persons from multiple parts of the country……determine ways to continue providing support services to individuals at increased risk of severe disease (services, meals, checking in) while limiting group settings and exposures. For organizations that serve high-risk populations, consider cancelling gatherings of more than 10 people. ….. Clean frequently touched surfaces at organization gathering points daily. Ensure hand hygiene supplies are readily available in the building…..

 [My teenage daughter] said something to this effect last evening: “everything feels so unsettled, as if the ground is moving under us, and it would be really nice if we could just return to life the way it was in January”. While she spoke, it suddenly occurred to me that this was exactly how I felt in the days after 9/11, when I sometimes wanted to turn the tv off and return to 9/10. I also remembered that the bright spots after 9/11 included sitting on the floor and playing with my son and his Thomas the Tank Engine set, sharing a simple meal of mac and cheese with my family, walking in the woods enjoying the foliage and crisp air. Indeed, my daughter’s statement and my memories of 9/11 reminded me that it is also important - even if our lives and plans are disrupted - that we develop and maintain routines, that we talk about what’s going on and how it feels, and that we also plan to have some fun and enjoy each other’s company. During such times, we can feel more rooted and steady if we make sure to take time each day to enjoy something meaningful that warms our hearts. -Dr. Dora Anne Mills

My friends, here are things we can do:                                                                                    

Self-Care. This is a perfect time to remember the airline instruction, “put on your own oxygen mask first.” Tend to your physical health, be aware of what’s happening in your own body regarding health symptoms or stress. WASH YOUR HANDS! Follow CDC instructions. Practice appropriate social distancing in your circumstances.  Tend to your spiritual practices, draw closer to God and invite God’s wisdom and strength into your life and community. If you don’t already have a prayer partner or covenant group, start one. Video Conferenced covenant groups work amazingly well. 

But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 
that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care 
for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, 
all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
- 1 Corinthians 12:24-27

Extend God’s Care to others.  We are living into an extraordinary opportunity to knit strands of our personal and community life closer together. The simplest outreach may mean the most.  Check in with neighbors. Establish  regular calls with quarantined or isolated family, friends, co-workers. This helps create a rhythm in days that have lost their shape. Invite others to join you in sending notes and cards to a local elder care facility for distribution. Check with local non-profits to see how we can help sustain essential services for the most vulnerable in our communities. Support any decisions of your pastor, municipal or school leaders to suspend activities.  “Better safe than sorry” is compelling. A friend shared yesterday, I am perfectly fine overreacting and having upset and cranky people if it in even a small way contributes to more people being alive to have the ability to be upset and cranky. Personally, I will do the same to protect my family. In my estimation, the price of under-reacting is higher than the price of overreacting. But in truth, we have the evidence and data to point the way towards action that is vigilant yet allows us to hang on to some elements of normalcy. - Scott Gagnon, AdCare Director. 

Choose accurate information sources and assess the amount of information you can manage in a healthy way. This does not mean putting your head in the sand! There are an overwhelming variety of information sources, some more reliable than others, and it is tempting to try to keep up with all of them, especially those encouraging speculation or blame. It IS important to hold leaders accountable for their specific responsibilities. Let’s find ways to do that as constructively as possible.  Choosing information sources that empower and equip is more important than becoming attached to ones that feed frustration and negativity. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7 NRSV)    
Maine specific information that is accurate and relevant is available from Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC) updates include national CDC updates. You may want to subscribe to updates.  https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/
New England Annual Conference information is available on this page which has many links to current, accurate information and will post any updates from the NEAC: https://www.neumc.org/newsdetail/13395869
This has been a longer than usual letter.  I end it with a hug in my heart for each and every one of you, visualizing God’s embrace of us all.  The living Christ is present with sustaining and sufficient strength and wisdom. 
In God’s Grace, Karen
Rev. Dr. Karen L. Munson
District Superintendent for Mid Maine and upper Tri-State