If the H5N1 virus mutates, making human-to-human conveyance of the disease possible, as seems likely, the failure to have such plans could prove fatal in the extreme.
The reason I say that?
Avian Flu far quicker and deadlier than the influenza strains with which most of us are familiar. Thus far, half of all humans who have contracted the disease through close contact with infected bird populations, have died. Avian Flu is so deadly because its symptoms seem to show up within twenty-four hours of exposure and within seventy-two hours, its victims can be dead. It's far quicker and more deadly than the influenza strains with which most of us are familiar.
If an outbreak arises, the most sensible responses will be to blunt its spread by limiting possible exposure.
- Faith communities may want to plan on suspending their regular weekly worship and some other church activities.
- Schools and social service agencies may also have to suspend normal operations.
- Retailers may have to close up shop for a time. (If that's necessary for the good of all, it would seem that federal and state governments should make sure that they're not swamped by the debt they likely would pile up during a shut-down.)
- As we saw exemplified in many of the New Orleans faith communities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it is possible for pastors and congregations to share spiritual sustenance via email, pastors' blogs, chat rooms, and church web sites. In fact, it will be easier to do this in the face of an Avian Flu pandemic than it was after Katrina, because populations will be less dispersed.
- In an emergency, social service agencies and retailers might make similar use of cyberspace, not to mention the telephone and conventional mass media.
- Long term, of course, direct human-to-human contact is both optimal and really, what we all need. This need for human fellowship has been built into our DNA by God. The call to love God and love neighbor, which is how Jesus summarizes all of God's Law, is not just a command, it is our privilege.
UPDATE: One suggestion I intended to include in this post and then forgot, is that faith communities make their buildings available for use as temporary hospitals during any pandemic. There is a long tradition of this in Christianity, of course, and in fact, the first hospitals were Christian institutions. I can't think of a better or more practical way of sharing the love of Jesus Christ. Surveys indicate that should a pandemic arise, there won't be enough hospital beds in the whole country to accommodate the ill. In Massachusetts, they plan to use college dorm facilities, which is also smart.