Plans to reopen swimming pools, bars, nightclubs, and other businesses across the United States are being reconsidered as the coronavirus continues to spread. As of Friday, June 26, daily coronavirus cases were increasing in at least 29 states. On this Independence Day weekend, it is time for national repentance.
“This is a continuation of the first wave,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja to Business Insider. “Some places that might have been relatively spared early on in the winter and the spring are now facing cases higher than they had before.” Adalja is a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. In response, a number of states and cities are reversing course on their reopening efforts, moving back to earlier phases or postponing additional steps.
The rise in cases was particularly steep in southern states including Texas and Florida.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott rolled back his state’s plan to reopen. Bars had previously been allowed to open with restrictions in place, but Abbott decided to shut them down, except for delivery and take-out. He also closed tubing and rafting businesses, and mandated that the government approve gatherings of 100 or more people. “The rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” Abbott said in a statement.
On a single day, June 23, more than 5,000 new cases were reported in Texas, which Abbott described as a “massive outbreak.” That was followed on June 24 with 6,500 more cases. The situation in Texas is “absolutely horrifying,” according to Dr. Peter Hotez, who is working on a COVID-19 vaccine.
In Florida, regulators prohibited drinking in bars after nearly 9,000 new cases were reported to the state in one day. When Florida began its reopening in early May, daily new case counts were below 1,000, and then in early June Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed bars to reopen with modifications. “We are where we are,” he told reporters on June 25, holding back on an announcement of when they would go to the next phase.
According to Fox News, the City of Jacksonville did an about-face on June 29 and mandated the wearing of masks in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Jacksonville is hosting portions of the Republican National Convention this August. Hundreds of Florida doctors sent a letter to the city council which said that allowing 40,000 “people to descend on Jacksonville is unequivocally provocative of disease, predictably harmful, and medically disrespectful to the citizens of this city, much less the rest of the country.”
So why is this a time for national repentance?
Changing course on reopenings is related to the Greek word metanoia, translated as “repentance” in the Bible and defined as “change of mind.” The changes being made in response to the spread of the coronavirus are course corrections designed to preserve public health. But changes are hard to make because there is an economic cost to shut-downs and leaders don’t want to lose face by changing their plans.
Louisiana has postponed its next phase of reopening by a month and will stay in phase 2, which allows most businesses and houses of worship to operate at half capacity with social distancing. “We need to do a better job of wearing masks when we aren’t at home,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards to WWL-TV. Louisiana reported more than 53,400 cases and 3,100 deaths as of June 26.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced on June 27 that he was pausing the state’s reopening plan due to rising cases. Some counties were preparing to enter phase 4, which would essentially mean no restrictions, but the governor put a hold on those plans. In similar manner, Maine postponed the reopening of indoor bars, Oregon mandated face masks in indoor public places for most residents, and Boise, Idaho, reversed course and reverted to an earlier stage of its reopening which includes the closing of bars and nightclubs.
Repentance is connected not only to sorrow for sin, but to a change of mind or attitude.
Pastor Harley Camden underwent just such a change of mind after the Independence Day weekend, in my novel City of Peace. He had lost his wife and daughter in a bombing by Islamic extremists and was not sympathetic to the concerns of his Muslim neighbors. But then he got a call from the Prince William County Adult Detention Center, asking him to visit an inmate.
“We have a situation here that we think you might be able to help us with,” said a young corrections officer. “One of our inmates, Muhammad Bayati, has been on a hunger strike for several days. He is protesting his incarceration, and objecting to the time it will take to get him to trial.”
“You do know that he is a Muslim, don’t you?” asked Harley. “I’m Methodist.”
“So why are you not calling an imam?”
“We did, sir,” said the officer. “An imam was here the day before yesterday, but he was not successful in getting Mr. Bayati to eat.”
Great, thought Harley. “So why me?”
“We went online and found that your church was the only congregation in Occoquan,” explained the officer. “We thought that you might have some influence as a neighbor and a clergyman.”
Harley wondered if there was going to be any way out of this.
“I need to tell you that I do not know Mr. Bayati,” he said. “I have only lived in Occoquan for a few weeks.”
“Yes, sir,” the officer replied. “We would still like you to come in. We do not want to have to arrange for a doctor to force-feed him. That is a tough process, and it always leads to a lot of publicity.”
Harley leaned back in his chair, thinking. In the Washington area, most people wanted publicity. But not the jail, of course. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll come in.”
Harley got up, straightened his tie, and headed for the door. He knew that pastors were both called and sent, and right now he was being called to the Prince William County Adult Detention Center. There was no way around it. It felt like the irresistible call of God. And as someone who had been feeling distant from God, he knew he had to respond.
This is a time for national repentance, around the coronavirus and interfaith relations.
In your community, what decisions are being made to keep people healthy during the pandemic? How are these decisions made and communicated? When have you changed your mind and gone in a new direction? What was the result? Join the conversation through a comment below.