A doctor weighs in, from the Archdiocese of Boston:
If you knew that going to Mass this Sunday meant that quite possibly another 10 people would be hospitalized, and two people would die — would it be worth it to you? What if one of those people was your grandmother, or your primary care physician, or your priest? Is that charity? What if the priest unwittingly infects others before he realizes he’s infected? True heroism is not throwing oneself in harm’s way in the name of piety, and, therefore, increase the suffering of others.
Many well-meaning, devout people posting on social media simply do not understand epidemiology or exponential growth. One person in a crowd can easily infect two or more people, each of whom could infect two or more: so it’s no surprise we’re seeing exponential growth across the world — which has slowed down only in those countries which are imposing strict social distancing strategies. Although most people who catch the virus will be ok, perhaps 15 percent will be hospitalized, and 5 percent will need ICU beds (the numbers in Italy are much worse than these). Some experts estimate that we will need 1 million ventilators (the U.S. currently has approximately 160,000). Thus, if growth continues unchecked, very quickly, there will be no more ventilators for the patients who need them, and patients will die simply for lack of equipment (as is happening in Italy).
We Catholics have a long history of using the most advanced science to practice charity for others. Catholics started the first public hospitals (St. Basil the Great), founded the world’s first universities (Bologna, Oxford), advanced the scientific method (Roger Bacon, OFM), discovered genetics (Father Gregor Mendel), and proposed the Big Bang Theory (Father Georges Lemaitre) — during this time of crisis, it is not time for us to reject solid science.
With all due respect to those who never went to medical school: this is NOT the flu. This is clearly more contagious, and more serious: it much more often requires hospitalization and intubation (support on a breathing machine). There is a very real risk of U.S. hospitals being overwhelmed quite soon.
The best material weapon we have to fight this virus is social distancing. Cardinal Sean has wisely listened to the medical experts, and I am personally quite grateful.