Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Last Plane to Shanghai

On Friday at midnight in China, a ban on foreigners entering China went into effect. What may have been the last plane before the ban from North America to Shanghai landed on Friday evening, a flight from Vancouver. Unfortunately for me but fortunately for China and for her, my wife was on that plane. Though I joked that my wife was taking social distancing to a 6,000-mile extreme -- "really, honey, six feet should be enough" -- in reality my wife was driven by a profound sense of commitment to her students at the international school where she teaches math. Her employer and the students really need her as the school prepares to reopen. She's been teaching remotely late at night here in Wisconsin for the past few weeks, but now as China has made great progress in controlling the virus, it seems that schools may open soon, and her employer asked her and all her fellow teachers to return. 

The suggestion (not a command) to return came on Monday last week while my wife and I were enjoying our time with family here in Wisconsin in spite of the pain and uncertainty created by the Corona virus. Since our "medical refugee" exodus from Asia (we were in Vietnam during the Chinese New Year and decided to flee to the US as flights were being cancelled and chaos arising over the corona virus), she had continued to work remotely, holding sessions with students late at night here (morning for the students). I had hoped and prayed that she would not be required to go back. Yes, it would be nice to recover things from our apartment and close out some bank accounts there, but if needed, I'd be happy to just lose it all and start life over here, where we were already planning to return this year due to my work in the US and the need to finally be closer to family. But when she saw that schools may be opening, she felt a strange urge to return quickly.

Getting back seemed impossible, though. Major US airlines did not have a way to get her back. Travel services like Orbitz or Travelocity did not show a way back was possible. She lost over a day seeking possibilities. The only route that could get her back quickly seemed to be through Taiwan, but  there were concerns about Taiwan's strict and successful rules that might prevent her from the transit required between airports. It turns out that had she chosen the Taiwan route, she would have been sent back to the US. Finally, after many hours of frustration, she contacted a Chinese airline and learned that there were seats available. There were seats left on an April 6 flight from Chicago, not too far from our place in Wisconsin, and four seats left on a Thursday flight from Vancouver. She feared that the convenient Chicago flight would be too late. So on Tuesday, she booked a very expensive flight -- the most expensive flight we have ever purchased, about $3000  for an economy seat -- for that Thursday Vancouver-Shanghai flight, and had to buy additional tickets on other airlines to get to Vancouver, which required leaving Wisconsin early the next morning.

This whole time I was hoping that there would be some announcement coming out that would keep her here, at my side, because my life is quite wrapped around her companionship. She didn't want me to go for several reasons, including my job, the need to take care of our old house that we just moved back into, the need to help family with some of their challenges here. That all made sense. It was losing her to China for the next 3 months that didn't make sense to me.

That night, the night before her flights began at 6:15 AM the next morning, she asked me for a priesthood blessing. It was a very emotional time for us. We didn't want to be apart, but we had important duties that needed to be fulfilled. For me, it felt like sending her off on a mission, with vastly more reluctance and concern than I experienced in sending each of our four sons on missions. When I put my hands on her head and gave her a short blessing, seeking to listen to the Spirit, I felt impressed to talk about the people who needed her there and the many souls she would touch, both in her work and in her fellowship with friends and fellow members of the Church, where she is also definitely needed. I think the blessing was really for me: I saw a much bigger picture in that blessing, and felt at peace that she was doing the right thing and would have the Lord's help, no matter what happened. But I also recognize that I can't pick the outcome. We are getting along in years, and this virus could cost one or both of us our lives before we meet again (and I still didn't even have insurance for the US, just for China, a concern I've about got fixed -- the Health.gov system completely failed for me and the site's tech support supervisor could not help: "Sometimes this just happens, sorry!"). But in spite of the fear, I'm at peace and so very proud of her.

I see that China is doing all they can to bring their economy and normal life back online. The risk of disease needs to be weighed against the cost of shutting down education, of impairing health through poverty, of losing the fabric of society that can make life so wonderful in China. Cautious steps to revitalize the nation are under way. Meanwhile, we can also learn from South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Japan, where the virus is being brought under control without shutting down the economy. I believe Asia will rise swiftly from this crisis. And they will need sharp students with good math skills. My wife will be a small part of that.

She was so blessed to be able go. Shortly after she got one of the last tickets from North America to China, China announced a ban on foreigners that went into effect shortly after she landed. Half of the teachers in her large math department ended up being stranded outside of China, unable to return. She is desperately needed at her school. She was also blessed to not have to be quarantined in a government-run facility for two weeks, but has been allowed to do her quarantine in her apartment, with an electronic monitor on the door to ensure she complies with the strict and sensible regulations. She was treated with kindness, and the Communist Party cadre who managed her return to her apartment was very kind and showed her things like how to order groceries and so forth. There are so many kind people in China.

So many things worked together to get her back where she was needed -- all counter to my wishes and prayers, but that's how it often is.

Meanwhile, we both felt greatly blessed to have the time together we have had in the US. Her main hope in coming here, she told me before she left, was to have time to help our pregnant daughter-in-law in our town and to be around to see the new grandson. She did so much to help in the hectic couple of weeks before the baby came. The need for us to help take care of all the other kids was mitigated when the baby was born since our son was then able to begin a much-needed month off of work. Exactly one week after the baby came home with mom and dad, my wife was on the plane back to China. One mission accomplished, another begun.

Last night I participated via Zoom.us with our Shanghai International Branch's church services. It was wonderful to be there, one of 40 remote connections, and to be able to watch her face during the service as she joined from our apartment. A better view than I normally get sitting on the stand during church. She looked so beautiful! I'm glad she made it back and glad for her school and for China. I wish I could have been with her on that last plane to Shanghai, but look forward to getting her back when she's completed a vital mission in a place where we both feel she is needed now.

Kudos to China for its progress in controlling the disease. Kudos to Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan for your progress as well. Today I join many Latter-day Saints in fasting and prayer for the Lord's assistance in helping the world to cope with this crisis, seeking both temporal and spiritual help to make the world a better place and to get over this problem soon. We may wish to pray for guidance in our lives, pray for our leaders to make wise decisions, pray for blessings to be upon our medical workers (one son and daughter-in-law are doctors, and I'm so proud of them for being able to help heal others -- keep medical workers in your prayers), pray for those seeking innovative solutions, pray for those who have lost jobs and businesses that they may have hope and that the economy may revive to lift the burden of poverty on some many. (Poverty kills in so many ways, whether it's missed cancer diagnosis, inadequate health care in general, poor nutrition, unsafe housing, unsafe cars, depression and suicide, etc. -- these hidden tragedies may not have been considered in decisions to shut down so much of our economy.)

We need so much guidance from above!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Great War Against the Virus: Maybe It's Time We Give Peace a Chance

I was saddened to hear the views online of some of the college students partying in Florida during spring break. Not just because they seemed so oblivious to the health risks we as a nation are trying to control, but also because they didn't seem to be putting their generous student loans to the best academic use. Many of their faces are now on file, showing total disregard for the government's request that we practice social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Well, I have a message for them, a warning to all reckless students and many of the rest of you as well: the government knows who you are and where you live, and soon someone from the government will be coming to your door. When they do, don't try to hide, don't try to run, but simply face reality and take what's coming to you: a $1,200 check, delivered by the US Postal Service, courtesy of the thankful taxpayers of America.

That's right, the government is going to catch up with you and give you a hefty check. And your student loans will probably be forgiven. So next time there's a global pandemic, don't go partying in Florida. Think about the Riviera or Hawaii instead. Maybe Thailand. Now you can afford it, and since you don't owe anything to the rest of us anymore, you owe it to yourself to go enjoy.

I was also saddened while driving, listening to the radio, to hear President Trump speaking in a press conference where he talked about his plans to help big companies that are hurting. He said, "We're going to back the airlines 100%. It's not their fault.... We'll be ... helping them very much." I was so puzzled. I rushed home and grabbed an aging copy of the Constitution from the bottom of my tightly-packed suitcase and scanned it again. Where did the Founders write that the President had power to dish out money to big companies if something unfortunate happened? Must have been written in invisible ink, like lemon juice, that only becomes visible when held over a candle. I was out of candles, but there was a gas stove in the kitchen where I was staying. I fired up a burner, gently held the Constitution over it, and suddenly it all became clear. Yes, the power of the President to do anything he wants, and for Congress to do anything they want, was clearly visible in the swirling wisps of smoke that arose from the ashes of that document.  So that's how they justify the looting!

Bad things have happened to all of us with the corona virus. Our health is one casualty: even if you are virus free, the stress of an economic shutdown is enormous, not to mention the harms of decreased exercise with gyms closed, decreased health care for non-emergencies, increased suicide among the depressed and unemployed, etc. Other disappointments may include our jobs, our investments, our schools, or even our stale over-priced avocado toast while partying on a beach in Florida. It's not our fault in most cases. So is the government supposed to take over everything to fix all our woes? But yes, I know what you're thinking: poor Boeing! With their horrible mismanagement and disregard for safety that made the whole world fear their new wonder plane that kept crashing, their airplane sales have sunk. Mega owie! Of course they need 60 billion or so to ease their pain.

The whole country has been suffering, not so much from the few thousand cases of the virus which actually aren't yet causing more illness or deaths than the flu does most years (but yes, of course, it's more dangerous than the flu, perhaps largely because so few are immune to it), but from the extreme measures imposed by government. The unnecessary panic of the Federal Reserve Bank in slashing interest rates, resulting in extreme market fears and devastation to investors and corporation, coupled with the extreme attention to the virus by the media, have created as sense of panic. This is what those seeking power and attention love, for every crisis is a chance to grab more money, more power, more fame for taking a popular "leadership" role in the looting. Now it's a race between parties and politicians all over the country to see who can "do more" to save the country by, say, shutting down the economy and taking control of more of the wealth of the nation to redistribute it their way.

Ever since the birth of this nation, however flawed its course has been at times, many Americans have taken pride in the desire to stand for freedom and liberty, even at the risk of life itself. While wicked men may have sometimes exploited those noble sentiments in unjustified wars, America has been a land where liberty truly was a prized goal sought by large numbers of its citizens and leaders (though, sadly, the chains of slaves were ignored too long). Better to abandon security and comfort than to surrender freedom and give power to tyrants. Many of our Founding Fathers were men of that caliber, in spite of serious flaws, and many put their lives on the line in opposing the tyranny of Great Britain in order to secure a chance for freedom for future generations. They went to war to secure liberty, and it would not be the last time Americans would be willing to die for their liberty or for the liberty of others.

Today we are in a new war, a war that may prove to be more costly and painful than most of our trials in the past. But instead of fighting for liberty, we are being asked in this war to surrender liberty for security. Hand more power to government and a vast chunk of the total GDP to allow them to pick winners, buy votes, and spend trillions in ways that can only prolong the pain.

A few weeks ago I heard Republicans were warning against the vile threat of Bernie Sanders, the socialist, who wanted to just send out checks for $1000 to everyone. This kind of inflationary redistribution of wealth would destroy the country and wreck the economy. Now the "fix" for the economy being touted by Republicans is to hand out even more money ($1,200 per partyer) in pretty much the same way. It's a dream come true for the banksters who will profit enormously from the trillions they will handle. It adds incredible burdens to future generations -- shackles of debt and government control. But we are supposed to trust our politicians, who won't even read the massive 800-page spending spree bill they are voting on. Trust and comply, for the enemy is terrifying and has wiped out thousands, like over 3,000 among the 1+ billion people of China, unlike the flu that kills tens of thousands each year in the US. So scary that we have to shut down almost everything and let politicians take the reigns and loot the nation. Together we will win this war and it will only cost you everything.

This patriotic war, one that calls us to surrender liberty for security and to trust the most untrustworthy people on the planet as they seize more and more power, promising to take are of us and make us more dependent on them, brings out the pacifist in me. When it comes to the Great War Against the Virus, maybe it's time we give peace a chance.

Meanwhile, some hopeful possibilities are emerging. Here's one, based on a study from Oxford. Are they right? I hope so, but don't know. There's also a follow-up discussion looking at fever rates in general. There is still much we don't know for sure due to inadequate testing and lack of blood testing in particular. It's why we might really need more data and time before we let government think pull a trigger that may be shooting ourselves in both feet.  I also was intrigued by the perspectives of Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, a noted German physician (see Wikipedia's page with commentary on his views), who argues that what the world is doing is a dramatic overreaction. His video discussion has English subtitles.

Dr. Wodarg is also one of several other medical experts speaking out against the excessive panic over SARS-CoV-2, a.k.a. the Corona virus. Many interesting observations there. Maybe we are plunging into ultimate disaster and need to shut everything down, but I prefer to be optimistic, and would rather that we act cautiously without surrendering too much to those who stand to profit from panic. Here's a quote from one of those 12 experts, Dr. Joel Kettner, a professor of Community Health Sciences and Surgery at Manitoba University, former Chief Public Health Officer for Manitoba province and Medical Director of the International Centre for Infectious Diseases:
I have never seen anything like this, anything anywhere near like this. I’m not talking about the pandemic, because I’ve seen 30 of them, one every year. It is called influenza. And other respiratory illness viruses, we don’t always know what they are. But I’ve never seen this reaction, and I’m trying to understand why....

I worry about the message to the public, about the fear of coming into contact with people, being in the same space as people, shaking their hands, having meetings with people. I worry about many, many consequences related to that....

In Hubei, in the province of Hubei, where there has been the most cases and deaths by far, the actual number of cases reported is 1 per 1000 people and the actual rate of deaths reported is 1 per 20,000. So maybe that would help to put things into perspective.
Do continue preparing and washing hands. You might wish to have some cash on hand, maybe enough for 1 or 2 month of expenses, before banks and ATMs begin to fail (shutting down businesses means many mortgages or rents aren't being paid and this increases pressure on banks). I hope they don't, but it's possible. Having some cash at home or in a safe place outside of a bank is always a smart thing to have.

Continue adding to your food storage. Supply chains that ought to be healthy are precarious. Many "non-essential" businesses may play a role in supply chains that our all-knowing politicians might overlook when they decide who can do what, and the result in the end can be trouble. Shutting flights down affects many shipments and can have unforeseen effects. Financial strains can shut some things down unexpectedly. Be prepared. And enjoy your next break in Hawaii with the party money coming your way!

Further reading:
"Singapore modelling study estimates impact of physical distancing on reducing spread of COVID-19" at ScienceDaily.com, discussing a new study published in The Lancet looking at Singapore's response and future options. Singapore has had just two deaths and has not chosen to implode its economy. May we learn from Singapore and Korea.

Coronavirus Deaths by Country

Sunday, March 15, 2020

President Nelson Gives a Message of Hope at This Troubled Time

As so many people struggle and worry with the craziness and uncertainty of COVID-19 and the Corona virus (SARS-CoV-2), it was a welcome relief to listen to President Nelson's thoughtful message of hope and optimism posted on the Church's Newsroom and also at Facebook. Having a respected medical doctor and Prophet of God share his optimism gave me a little more courage to go forward.

I especially appreciated his request to not just take care of ourselves and our loved ones, but to also "look for opportunities to help those around you near and far." There are so many things you can do. Here's one tip: for those of you who have prepared carefully and have adequate supplies, why not bring along something like toilet paper or other useful items for those you visit as ministering brothers or sisters, or for others you sense may have a need? Some people have traveled to many stores this week trying to get a roll or two, sometimes in vain. Imagine how much comfort a few extra supplies can bring in a time of such frustration.  Seek the Spirit and look for inspired ways to help the right person in the right way. What can be more joyous than that?

May we continue being cautious and preparing carefully for the possibility of trouble, while also seeking the Lord's guidance daily.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

COVID-19 Repsonse: Church Gatherings Suspended for Now, Worldwide

Today the Church announces that Church gatherings are temporarily suspended worldwide. China led the way in having members adapt to cancelled Church meetings, building swiftly on our experience with the Church's new emphasis on home-centered worship. Now we will all have the opportunity to worship and learn as families, individuals, or small groups without the structure we are used to.

Here is today's announcement from the Newsroom at ChurchofJesusChrist.org:

The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent the following letter March 12, 2020, to Church members worldwide. 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As promised in our letter of March 11, 2020, we continue to monitor the changing conditions related to COVID-19 throughout the world. We have considered the counsel of local Church leaders, government officials and medical professionals, and have sought the Lord’s guidance in these matters. We now provide the following updated directions.

Beginning immediately, all public gatherings of Church members are being temporarily suspended worldwide until further notice. This includes:
  • Stake conferences, leadership conferences and other large gatherings
  • All public worship services, including sacrament meetings
  • Branch, ward and stake activities
Where possible, please conduct any essential leadership meetings via technology. Specific questions may be referred to local priesthood leaders. Further direction related to other matters will be provided.

Bishops should counsel with their stake president to determine how to make the sacrament available to members at least once a month.

We encourage members in their ministering efforts to care for one another. We should follow the Savior’s example to bless and lift others.

We bear our witness of the Lord’s love during this time of uncertainty. He will bless you to find joy as you do your best to live the gospel of Jesus Christ in every circumstance.


The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
A reasonable call for reducing risk as the SARS-CoV-2 virus is spreading into many nations now creating panic and leading to sometimes draconian steps that can cause plenty of stress and pain on their own. 

Meanwhile, don't panic, but do prepare (some writers like Peggy Noonan may disagree with "don't panic," but I think vigorous, realistic preparation is what they may be calling for). Even if you (mistakenly) think this is no more serious than the ordinary flu, it has already begun to disrupt our society and our basic supply chains, many of which depend upon production in China (they are starting things up again, but it could be a slow process to get supply chains restored). When supply chains break down, markets and financial systems will be hurt. When capital flow and bank liquidity becomes strained, we could see the day when ATMs suddenly cease to work, when banks take a "bank holiday," and when many stores are shut down or have little to sell. What you see happening right now in the stores is not panic, it is preparation, which is a reasonable response (see "Panic? You Haven't Seen Anything Yet... " by Brandon Smith). Real panic is what happens to the unprepared when difficult scenarios they have ignored suddenly take place.
One important suggestion: now is the time to make sure you have a good supply of any essential medications you may need. Ditto for food, water, and some other supplies. If stores and pharmacies have to close for one or two months, are you ready? There's still time to take further steps to prepare.
Continue preparing -- something the U.S. has tragically failed to do when it comes to the most important resource for dealing with this virus, test kits. We should be testing thousands of people each day like Korea and China, but we are just doing small handfuls of testing due to blunders in preparation and some doctors report they can't get government permission to use test kits for people who they think may have the virus (see, for example, the related story at NPR.org). Can't we just admit the problem and ask Korea and China for some medical assistance?

Update, 3/13/2020: ScienceNews.org reports that based on examination of cases on the Princess Diamond cruise ship, the real mortality rate for the virus is probably around 0.6% on average (much higher for the elderly), making it deadlier than the flu but not nearly as frightening as the questionable 3% figure reported by the World Health Organization. This is consistent with the mortality rates being reported in South Korea based on vastly more extensive testing that we have seen in most other places.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Skip Church if You Are Ill and Other Tips for Coping with COVID-19 and the Corona Virus (SARS-CoV-2)

In my previous posts warning about the need to prepare for the Corona virus, my greatest concern has not been the risk of getting ill, but the risk of a society that panics over the virus. We've seen that in addition to the health impact, the personal, social, and economic impact of a vigorous military/police response to enforce widespread lockdowns can be terribly painful, and pray that China and other affected nations can recover quickly and open their communities up soon.

One reason why it is wise to have basic supplies of food, water, and sanitation supplies is not because the virus will wipe them out, but because panic and political reactions can strip shelves, shut down supply chains, and essentially imprison people in their own homes. China has taken efforts to provide access to food and basics to those who are locked down, but if we go to local lockdowns in the States, we may face all sorts of new challenges and pains along the way. Don't rely on questionable supply chains to take care of you in times of trouble Make gradual ongoing preparation a part of your lifestyle. Hopefully you've been doing that for a long time already.

South Korea has set a good example of how a pandemic can be controlled while maintaining the liberties that are fundamental in a Constitutional republic or democracy. In such a country, the government in theory should not have the power to shut down travel, lock people in their homes, and control who can do what. (To understand why from a perspective I find reasonable, see "What Would Murray [Rothbard] Say About the Coronavirus?") In the US and other nations facing the virus, one can already see some pundits, some government leaders, and other voices considering the possible "need" to step in and take away many basic rights in the name of a crisis, as so many of the world's politicians love to do (always to their benefit, it seems, and to the benefit of their friends as they pick the winners and losers in the massive redistribution of wealth and power that they may claim is needed to "fix" every new crisis). But South Korea seems to be taking a different course. Rather than running roughshod over personal liberty, they are providing means and incentives for widespread testing to quickly identify those who are infected so that they can self-quarantine and get early treatment. No need to haul citizens away or have armed guards threatening them if they try to leave their neighborhood or city.

Abundant testing has been a key in South Korea and seems to be working. See Bloomberg's "Virus Testing Blitz Appears to Keep Korea Death Rate Low," which attributes a low death rate to early treatment of cases identified by aggressive testing, but may overlook the simple mathematical effect of catching many more cases with which to divide the number of deaths, resulting in a lower death rate. Many mild cases go undetected, except in South Korea with its widespread testing. Also see "South Korea has tested 140,000 people for the coronavirus. That could explain why its death rate is just 0.6% — far lower than in China or the US" at BusinessInsider.com. [Update, 3/13/2020: ScienceNews.org reports that based on examination of cases on the Princess Diamond cruise ship, the real mortality rate for the virus is probably around 0.6% on average (much higher for the elderly), making it deadlier than the flu but not nearly as frightening as the questionable 3% figure reported by the World Health Organization. This is consistent with what we are seeing from South Korea.]

Because of wise preparation and actively working to allow companies to bring effective test kits to the market much faster than normal, South Korea has created an abundance of test kits. It's a shame the US did not follow suit and a shame that we did not seek South Korea's aid in importing test kits that could be used here, where testing has been grossly inadequate. I hope the US will reconsider the barriers that left the CDC and the nation in a poorly prepared state relative to test kits, but we can rightfully be proud of excellent healthcare facilities in the US. I look forward to the nation obtaining test kits and hope the number of tests we do relative to the need will not be such an embarrassment that the CDC has to take down the info on their website about the number of tests that have been conducted as it did on March 2. Regarding the trouble with the CDC's test kits in the US and our national poor preparation regarding test kits, please see the interview with a doctor and an FDA representative in the CNBC story, "New York City doctor says he has to ‘plead to test people’ for coronavirus." The doctor feels our lack of test kits is a national scandal and will exacerbate the problem. But the good news is that based on South Korea's data, the best data we have so far on the impact of the virus, the death rate may be only twice as bad or so as a regular flu. Panic is unwarranted, elimination of fundamental liberties is not needed, but preparation is still key.

Note that in the interview above, the death rate shown in South Korean data is said to be even lower than 0.6%, perhaps around 0.2%. More time may be needed to determine the real death rate. But this is much more encouraging than an early Lancet publication on the virus suggesting the mortality rate might be as high as 11%. South Korea's numbers have helped me realize the danger may be much lower than I feared.

Unfortunately, some panic may have been exacerbated by the alarming and now rather questionable numbers reported by the WHO, which claimed that the death rate was over 3%. Some suspicious folks have rudely alleged that since China was reporting a death rate of around 2%, WHO's claim may have been part of some plan to support China, implying that China's  medical care (such as amazing new hospitals in Wuhan which, in spite of some possible limitations in plumbing and privacy, are marvels to have been built in just a few days) and vigorous containment had resulted in a much lower death rate than normal. That's mere speculation and I can't comment on what the numbers in China are or may mean because I don't have any inside information there, but in any case it seems that the WHO's surprisingly high numbers for mortality may be questionable in light of what we see when ample testing is done. And perhaps China's mortality rates are actually even higher than they should be, contrary to unkind allegations that they are artificially low. Time will help clarify all these issues.

So what should we do? I'm not an expert, but here are some thoughts to consider. Do your own diligence. 


1. Don't panic.
Yes, the virus is more virulent than the flu and apparently more deadly, and we definitely need to prepare, but keep in mind that if we end up in a catastrophe with, say, 10 million Americans infected with a death rate of 0.4%, we could have 40,000 Americans die over the coming year or so, a tragic disaster slightly more severe than one year of automobile fatalities. (But it's possible that the numbers could be much worse -- or much better.) As far as I can tell, we have not locked down entire cities or states because of the risk of automobile deaths. We have not taken away their automobiles, banned travel between states or cities, forced people to stay in their homes instead of driving, or spent billions to redistribute wealth to those friends of politicians who are supposedly heavily impacted by the "automobile virus." Heavens knows I should not suggest that in jest because a lot of our leading politicians would just love to "solve" that problem in their quest for more power ("never let a crisis go to waste," as they say). But as serious as the Corona virus is, it is not the end of the world and we should not make it the end of the economy or our personal liberty. Sadly, it has been an economic disaster for the nation where I have been living the past 8+ years, but hope they can swiftly recover. I hope our response will not be so draconian.

May we learn from China, where much has been achieved as they struggle valiantly with the brunt of this disease, but let's not assume that we should repeat all aspects of their approach. There may be more appropriate ways for the U.S. and other nations with much different systems. May we also learn from South Korea and be better prepared for the next virus and get adequate kits in place for the current one, even if we might need to humbly ask China, Korea, or Canada for their help.

2. Increase your caution to reduce being infected or spreading infection. 
There is still much about this disease we don't know and there is not yet a vaccine nor high levels of immunity in the population, so this virus deserves more caution than an ordinary flu. Be much more cautious so that you don't become infected or spread the infection. A key factor according to every expert I've heard is that we need to wash our hands frequently and avoid touching our mouth, nose, and eyes where a virus can enter our body.

Here in quiet Wisconsin, with its lone case of COVID-19, face masks are generally sold out. Not just face masks, but also hand sanitizer. Gloves are nearly gone. Many cold and flu OTC medications such as zinc lozenges were sold out when I looked on Saturday. Anti-microbial soap was apparently out of stock at Walmart for a while but I was able to buy some yesterday since I arrived right as as few bottles had just come in. Who knows what would happen if the disease rate here triples next week and we suddenly have an alarming 3 cases??

There is a debate over face masks. Should you have some? The Surgeon General, per his recent Tweet, wants us ordinary people to stop buying them because they are "ineffective," and because healthcare professionals desperately need them. Maybe he's right. But some say how can something so ineffective be desperately needed? His point, I think, is that masks aren't very effective if worn improperly, but I am uncomfortable with the Surgeon General's statement. I wish he would have said something like, "they may not be very effective if worn improperly." As stated, it has the ring of misinformation, especially when one considers that the CDC's own website has a peer-reviewed article showing us that in households with an infected person, surgical masks can actually be effective in reducing transmission (if worn diligently) -- and that's exactly the scenario that motivates many of us to want face masks for our family. Not because we need to wear them on the street, as is required in many parts of China, but because we want to be prepared if someone we love becomes ill. See C. Raina MacIntyre et al.,  "Face Mask Use and Control of Respiratory Virus Transmission in Households," Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 15, Number 2 (February 2009). In their study of the transmission of influenza virus, they found that when masks are not strictly worn in dealing with sick family members, they were not effective -- no surprise there. But for those who adhered to sound procedures, they made a large difference:
We estimated that, irrespective of the assumed value for the incubation period (1 or 2 days), the relative reduction in the daily risk of acquiring a respiratory infection associated with adherent mask use (P2 or surgical) was in the range of 60%–80%. Those results are consistent with those of a simpler analysis in which persons were stratified according to adherence (Technical Appendix). We emphasize that this level of risk reduction is dependent on the context, namely, adults in the household caring for a sick child after exposure to a single index case. We urge caution in extrapolating our results to school, workplace, or community contexts, or where multiple, repeated exposures may occur, such as in healthcare settings. The exact mechanism of potential clinical effectiveness of face mask use may be the prevention of inhalation of respiratory pathogens but may also be a reduction in hand-to-face contact. Our study could not determine the relative contributions of these mechanisms. In this study, it is only possible to talk about a statistical association between adherent mask use and reduction in the risk of ILI-infection. The causal link cannot be demonstrated because adherence was not randomized in the trial. Although we found no significant difference in handwashing practices between adherent and non-adherent mask users, it is possible that adherent mask use is correlated with other, unobserved variables that reduce the risk of infection. Further work will therefore be needed to definitively demonstrate that adherent mask use reduces the risk of ILI-infection.
The mechanism is not certain, and it may be the value of the mask is in reducing the degree of hand-to-face contact. Contrary to this report, the Surgeon General and others have suggested that masks may actually make things worse by increasing hand-to-face contact, but I wonder of that argument really has any merit. Again, if someone is careless, then mask or no mask, they will have elevated risk. But I think it would be better to tell citizens how to use masks effectively in caring for an ill family members and to warn them to not touch their face if they are going to use masks, rather than to tell them to give up and not try masks at all. But I understand the desire to make them more available for healthcare professionals. But that's a supply chain problem that can be solved without questionable or incomplete information to control public behavior. Make more masks, get more into the hands of medical workers, but don't tell or force us to stop buying them. There are legitimate reasons for us to have them, whether it's protecting people from infection when a family member is ill or reducing the risk of spreading a disease when we are infectious.

There's also a debate about whether cheap surgical masks are truly inferior to the much more expensive and uncomfortable N95 respirators that are often worn by medical professionals. Again, I'm not an expert, so do your own research on this and all other topics raised here, but a major study just published in 2019 appears to resolve that debate, and the answer seems to be that there is no clear significant difference. See "Surgical masks as good as respirators for flu and respiratory virus protection" reported on Sept. 3, 2019 on the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center's newsroom regarding their major peer-reviewed study published in the nation's leading medical journal, JAMA. So if you wish to obtain a face mask or two, don't grossly overpay the gougers selling N95 masks. Better to grossly overpay the gougers a lot less for a relatively cheap mask. (Or wait for the glut when the panic subsides, if you choose.) Hats off to those who are already prepared with masks and willing to share with family and neighbors when they need them. (See my related post on the kind Vietnamese family whom I found giving away surgical masks to offset the harm or price gouging. What better form of charity than to graciously help others in times of shortage? We were so inspired by their goodness.)

As for hand sanitizer, which is in short supply and subject to ridiculous price gouging, look at alternatives. Soap and water is great for most needs, IMO. Hand sanitizer is often just rubbing alcohol or ethanol, and these fluids tend to still be available. So go to a drugstore or grocery store and buy a bottle of rubbing alcohol or other low-cost disinfectant. You can put some in a little bottle and carry it and use it before eating, etc.  (But I suggest you don't stockpile vodka. It's only 50% ethanol,n and might not be strong enough to kill many microbes, as I recall. And others might misunderstad.)

3. If you are sick, stay home if you can. Be sensitive about the risks of spreading whatever virus you might have. 
At Church in one of the units I've attended since returning to the States, a missionary threw up in the foyer. It was an ugly mess. I was one of the first to see this happen. My instinct was to run to the kitchen and grab a lot of paper towels and a wet cloth, and I quickly returned and helped in wiping up the mess on his shoes and the carpet, and gave him a glass of water as well. Then as others moved in to help, it hit me: since I'm without a home as a "medical refugee" of sorts from China, temporarily hanging out with some of my family now, including an expectant daughter-in-law, I can't afford to get sick and bring that missionary's illness home. I threw away what I had collected (most of the mess) and left the rest of clean up to the many others who gathered to help as I dashed to a bathroom to carefully wash up.

Unfortunately, I learned that the sick missionary had been sick all week. Hope it's nothing serious. I've been there and understand how young people can overdo it sometimes and might feel that they should just keep going, especially when they are trying hard to do their duty and are seeking to be faithful, but it perhaps it would be wiser to consider that the best way to advance the Gospel cause right now might be to not infect a large number of members and investigators. All of us may wish to carefully think about protecting others when we are ill.  I also hope mission presidents might consider this and urge their missionaries to stay home if there's a risk of being infectious with flu or something worse. That's just my opinion, of course. (BTW, I was pleased to see that the Church took missionaries out of Hong Kong when the virus looked threatening there and moved them elsewhere for their protection.)

On the other hand, if people stay home for every sniffle, very little work would get done in the world. But let's make a concerted effort not to infect others. For some, your little fever and cough could be a serious disease. Be cautious and think of how your illness might impact others. Think of the Hippocratic Oath that begins with, "First, do no harm."

4. Stay healthy. Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and let your immune system be at its best. 
Help your family do the same. Veggies, fruit, grains, and not too much sugar or junk food. Be wise and also review the Word of Wisdom as well. And if you are smoking, this would be a great time to stop. The real danger of COVID-19 seems to be the pneumonia it can cause. Anything that damages your lungs already is a dangerous step in the wrong direction.

May you and your community fare well and avoid severe pain from COVID-19 or the reaction of others to the threat of the disease. Prepare now, not in panic, but in measured steps with a focus on basic hygiene as a key to reducing risk.

5. In case things get unexpectedly bad, have some sanitation and survival supplies, including toilet paper.
I hope the fuss over COVID-19 will soon be a faint memory, but there are many other risks in our future. It's best to be prepared for unexpected trouble with some basic supplies of food, water, clothing, and sanitation supplies. If you've seen what's been happening in the people's paradise of Venezuela, you'll note that the system of government there has not been conducive to private enterprise, which tends to result in great shortages. One of the dramatic images you may have seen are the crowds of people who leave Venezuela to buy basic supplies and then march back across the boarder carrying precious goods, the most recognizable of which is often toilet paper. It's something we tend to take for granted, but when commerce is crushed, it runs out quickly and if you've grown up with that, it's hard to get used to alternatives like bark or cactus. Surprisingly, at Walmart yesterday morning I noticed that the most popular brands of toilet paper were already sold out or in very short supply. I suggest you gradually build a supply of that item if it's something you care about.

Other suggestions for preparing for trouble? Do this calmly and gradually, and avoid paying ridiculously high prices to gougers just because there's a momentary shortage.

Update, 3/8/2020:
The reference to Murray Rothbard above is likely to trouble some who object to his skepticism about government as the solution for most of the problems in the world, when in many cases he saw the foolishness, greed, and corruption of government as part of the problem rather than a panacea. 

On a related note, after my previous and possibly misguided inquiry about the possible benefits of  glucosamine, based in part on a peer-reviewed study linking it to decreased mortality from pneumonia, one critic replied that we might as well ask if other random materials like aspirin could prevent the Corona virus. That suggestion actually brings us back to Rothbard's views. Here was my reply (slightly edited):
"We may as well be asking if aspirin can prevent coronavirus." Oh, so there's a peer-reviewed study linking aspirin intake to surviving respiratory disease? If not, then there's quite a difference.

In fact, aspirin was a cause of death for the Spanish flu, when the U.S. government, influenced by a big pharma company seeking to profit from the disease, made a terrible recommendation to take very high aspirin levels to treat the flu, levels that today are known to be well above the maximum safe limit. See the New York Times article, "In 1918 Pandemic, Another Possible Killer: Aspirin." In fact, one peer-reviewed study suggests that high aspirin intake, driven by the US government's irresponsible recommendation, may have been a major contributor to the high mortality rate in that dreadful pandemic. See Karen M. Starko, "Salicylates and Pandemic Influenza Mortality, 1918–1919: Pharmacology, Pathology, and Historic Evidence," Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 49, Issue 9 (15 November 2009): 1405–1410, DOE: doi.org/10.1086/606060.

Has the reliability of information from the US government become significantly greater over time? Or is it still improperly influenced by big money, sometimes to our detriment? Do your own diligence, but I don't think that we can always trust what government officials say.
When we talk about mortality of the Corona virus in any nation and the policies required to cope with such a crisis, it's fair to wonder if the actions and statements of various governments have been accurate, helpful, and made in good faith, or if they may, as Rothbard generally feared, have been influenced by big sources of money, the quest for power, or other inappropriate motives. Do some influential groups stand to profit from panic? Do any big companies stand to gain from the $8 billion Congress is dishing out to deal with the virus? Could the profit motive or personal benefit possibly influence what companies press politicians to do? Naw, not a chance, right?

Anyway, thanks for the reminder about aspirin,  mortality from influenza, and the helpful guidance we have received from the government in the past.

Update, 3/12/2020: Church meetings worldwide have now been suspended temporarily to reduce risks related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus (Corona virus) and COVID-19. See the announcement at the Newsroom at ChurchofJesusChrist.org and also on my March 12 post.