Over the past several weeks, the pace of human society has dramatically slowed as a result of a natural phenomenon – the spread of a new virus. Technically classified as the SARS-CoV-2 virus, this coronavirus has led to a pandemic, a public health crisis on the international scale. Infectious disease is not new to human society, but the spread and scope of this virus is unprecedented; this is due, in part, to the greater/denser world population, the busy international scope of modern life, and the many norms of life. (Most of us can admit to times we have gone to work, church, etc. when we are sick.) Aspects of this infectious coronavirus have been unfolding. It has demonstrated an ability to transfer and spread rapidly, but likely does not readily mutate. The low chance of mutation means 1) those who are exposed should possess immunity and 2) a future vaccine should be effective. Limiting human contact slows the spread of the virus, to enable care for those who get very sick. Unfortunately, this will not stop the dispersion of the virus.
Science plays a critical role in understanding and addressing natural and man-made threats to human society. For decades, scientists have devoted their lives to studying infectious viruses. The 2016 article “Approved Antiviral Drugs over the Past 50 Years” by De Clercq and Li offers an understanding of the challenges and progress of antiviral drugs. The first drug was made available in 1963, and since then 90 others have been approved to fight certain viral infections. Science progress is methodical and meticulous. It requires numerous dedicated minds, and detailed, reproducible experimentation to discover solutions to problems such as infections and other ailments, agricultural pests that threaten food supplies, polluted air and water, climate change and so much more. Science also provides the means to new and improved ways of life.
An interesting outcome of the tragic pandemic, which has forced the slow-down in many countries, is earthly healing. One writer explained, “They say that in Wuhan (the first city heavily affected by the virus) after so many years of noise you can hear the birds again. They say that after just a few weeks of quiet, the sky is no longer thick with fumes but blue and grey and clear.” Improved air quality has been proven through satellite imagery and measurements. Maybe it takes a mandatory simplification of lifestyle for humanity to respond to the needs of the earth and one another. A vast number of scientists have been warning us for many years to improve our lifestyles in a way that is kinder to Creation.
The call from Pope Francis is to build a true culture of care for the earth and one another. While we are physically distancing from one another to slow the spread of the pandemic, we are always interconnected with each other and with Creation. God be with those who have died, those who are suffering and those who are taking care of the sick due to this health crisis; God be with those who suffer from other public health predicaments that are not adequately addressed even when the science is clear. May the Holy Spirit enlighten all hearts and minds to protect the common good, and provide wisdom and awareness to the scientists working to help solve crucial world problems. Amen.
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.