OGR Statement and Recommendations on COVID-19
Christians have an obligation to care for people who are poor, sick, in prison, or strangers (Matthew 25: 34 – 46) and in times of great crisis, the federal government is an important resource to help meet a community’s needs. In response to the coronavirus COVID-19, The Episcopal Church encourages everyone to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations to prevent the spread of this virus so that we do not unintentionally harm our neighbors at home, at school, at work, or in our general community. While some individuals may be at low-risk for the disease, we must ensure we are not transmission vectors that bring the virus into a community where many are at risk.
In particular, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions are the most susceptible to serious symptoms; therefore, we encourage people to also review the CDC’s recommendations for those at high risk, including limiting travel and public gatherings. While physically visiting and engaging with those at high risk can be more challenging, we encourage people to call, video chat, or write to their friends or loved ones who are quarantined so that, while they may need to be physically separated, they will not be alone.
As there is a significant amount of potentially harmful misinformation being shared on social media, we strongly recommend people rely on the CDC’s Coronavirus resources or Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center for information. All people should also familiarize themselves with the state and local public health departments and follow the recommendations of medical and public health officials. Parishes and other community organizations can find specialized recommendations from the CDC here, while guidance for schools is available here.
Legislative and Policy Recommendations
We are grateful that Congress passed emergency funding for public health programs to respond to COVID-19, but it is now time to look to the medium-term health and economic impacts of this crisis. We are deeply concerned that our nation’s healthcare and economic system align in ways that will multiply any impacts on low-income communities, the elderly, and other vulnerable people.
While cities, states, and federal agencies move to have white-collar employees work from home, building support staff, cafeteria contractors, security, and the multitudes of service sector employees that support office buildings are left with reduced hours, lower wages, little if any health care, no paid sick time, and potential lay-offs. The Episcopal Church advocates continually for a more comprehensive suite of federal programs to build an economic foundation or base-line to keep Americans from hunger, homelessness, medical bankruptcy, and other preventable tragedies.
Today, we call on Congress to follow emergency medical funding by strengthening programs that serve as an economic backstop for individuals and families and, in doing so, can help prevent domino effects that harm communities and the nation-at-large.
Among necessary short-term policies are explicit efforts to ensure that no vulnerable population is overlooked: disease does not know any social or legal boundary, and so we must protect all people with equal efforts. We are particularly concerned about:
- Capacity and resources for prisons, indigenous communities, schools, elderly care facilities and people with disabilities which all face uniquely challenging healthcare circumstances due to long-term under-investment and neglect.
- Funding for free testing and treatment to the underinsured and uninsured so that healthcare providers and hospitals can focus on treatment rather than administrative issues.
- Temporary immunity from immigration enforcement so that undocumented people can seek testing and care without fear of detention or deportation. This enables them to seek needed medical attention and in so doing contribute to the safety of the entire community.
- Termination of the Public Charge rule to encourage low-income, documented immigrants to seek care without concern for their future immigration status.
- Cancelation of block grant pilot programs (block grants limit funding availability each year) for federal healthcare services that traditionally have more flexible funding, so they can meet periods of greater need. This will ensure public confidence and allay fears that care will be limited and funded on a first-come, first-served basis.
Long-term programs also need attention and to be rebuilt after years of neglect or acute surges in demand, including:
- Unemployment insurance- Research from the Federal Reserve indicates that most families cannot survive the loss of even one paycheck. Unemployment Insurance, or a similar program, must be made available to the many gig-economy, service sector, hourly, seasonal and other workers who might see significant drops in their usual income due to quarantine and travel restrictions.
- Food assistance programs- These are critically important as the most vulnerable people will need help feeding themselves and their families. Growing programs to deliver meals to the elderly are particularly important to assist this vulnerable population in limiting contact in crowded areas like grocery stores and public transit.
- Housing assistance for the homeless or those at risk of losing their homes- This will ease the process of tracking and treating the sick and in doing so help reduce infections. Housing assistance will also help families keep their homes as disease, breakdowns in trade, and global economic tension in the energy industry threaten many people that are often geographically concentrated so that impact will be exponentially worse.
- Schools- They need funding to develop innovative ways to teach and engage with students if closures are necessary and prolonged. We must not force ourselves to choose between the safety and education of our children.
Infectious diseases know no demographic boundary. If any group is without access to affordable, quality care, we are all at greater risk. Flexibility and technical assistance must be provided for in legislation so that local community health services can respond as their community needs grow, and where these resources do not exist, they must be created as quickly as possible.
It is widely anticipated that the number of confirmed cases will rise as testing only became widely available the week of March 9th. Evidence-based and common-sense preparations help slow the spread and provide time for medical staff to care for those in serious condition. Going beyond the preparations recommended by public health officials causes shortages, panic, and fear that can harm many. The Episcopal Church has long relied on faith and reason to provide comfort and healing in times of sickness, and we encourage everyone to embrace the spiritual resources of the Church and follow the reason of their public health officials.
For the Poor and the Neglected
Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 826
For the Sick
Heavenly Father, giver of life and health: Comfort and relieve your sick servants, and give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, that those (or N., or NN.) for whom our prayers are offered may be strengthened in their weakness and have confidence in your loving care; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 260
For Social Service
Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son came not to be served but to serve: Bless all who, following in his steps, give themselves to the service of others; that with wisdom, patience, and courage, they may minister in his Name to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the love of him who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 260
For Doctors and Nurses
Sanctify, O Lord, those whom you have called to the study and practice of the arts of healing, and to the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life-giving Spirit, that by their ministries the health of the community may be promoted and your creation glorified; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 460
Bible readings, services, and prayers for the sick can be found in The Book of Common Prayer, beginning on page 453.