Kathryn Applegate
 on November 24, 2020

What’s the big deal about COVID? A Friendly Correspondence

Kathryn's friend asks her about the reality of COVID and its implications on how to live. She replies with data-driven reasoning for compassion and sacrifice during this time.

mask surrounded by fall colored leaves Niescioruk

The following is a real exchange that our Resources Editor, Kathryn Applegate, recently had with a friend about the nature of the coronavirus and the best practices that are recommended. We hope it can be a useful resource for you as you communicate with your community in love.

Hey friend!

So I still find myself trying to figure out exactly what to think about all this COVID-19 stuff, and being somewhere between, “COVID-19 is the greatest threat to humanity” and “NBD. It’s like a bad flu, and the flu is probably worse.” (Point being that I don’t agree with either statement.)

iphone with "About COVID-19" information displaying on the screen

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

That said, conversations about this are unavoidable and I really do want to be better informed and know what I’m talking about, which seems hard.

I happened upon this page on the CDC’s website, comparing flu to COVID-19, and while I don’t agree with the “COVID-19 is no worse than the flu” mentality, I have to say that reading over this summary is pretty non-impressive. In their defense, I think there is an effort to not be too panic-inducing, but it really does beg the question of, “So…what’s the big deal?”


According to the CDC summary, the key differences are:

  1. No vaccine for COVID-19 exists (yet), which probably doesn’t trouble many people because lots of people don’t get flu shots anyway, and
  2. The contagious period is longer in COVID-19 than flu, which probably doesn’t trouble a lot of people either, since they don’t worry about getting sick too much anyway.

There’s also some vague allusion to, “…in some cases, serious illness can result…” but again, most understand that all sorts of everyday illness can become quite serious in some circumstances, so what makes this different?

I hope this doesn’t make it sound like I’m taking COVID-19 lightly, and I certainly hope that I am not, but in conversations I find it hard to muster any genuine sense in me that this really is the significant danger it’s being communicated to be. I trust that there’s more to it, but I’m having a hard time understanding.

If anything, as more and more people get it, it seems like there’s an increasing string of voices saying, “I got it, it wasn’t too bad,” which is certainly not helping the general sense of “COVID-fatigue” that the country is facing.

Anyway, you’re a reasonable person and my friend, and I’m wondering…what do you think about all that? Where do you look for an answer to the question, “So really: how bad IS this?” and especially to respond to the COVID-19/flu debate?

Thank you in advance!

Hi Friend,

I’d love to talk about this in more detail. My short answer is, I think it’s a very big deal. I want to do everything in my power to not spread it, and I’d also like to avoid getting it.

More than 255,000 people have died in our country alone. We don’t have 1,500 people dying every single day in this country because of the flu. A recent report from the CDC indicates among older hospitalized patients, COVID-19 has killed 5 times the number killed by flu. Because the risk of hospitalization is about 20% for COVID compared to 1% for flu in that population, the overall deaths are likely to be significantly higher. The number of “excess deaths” (over a typical year) from late January to early October was nearly 300,000, and 2/3 of them were COVID-related.

Nearly 40% of deaths are linked to nursing homes. Black, Latino, and Native American populations are disproportionately affected as well. To me it’s a question of whether we as a society value the vulnerable and are willing to make some sacrifices, individually and collectively, to get the virus under control.

Aside from death, there is also the increased risk of blood clots (as happened to a friend’s husband recently), stroke (7x compared to flu), heart attack, and other adverse effects.

Now, it is true that COVID is not likely to be life altering or even noticeable to the majority of people who get it, but I still want to avoid it. Several of my husband’s colleagues have it right now. One VP has missed 2 full weeks of work. She is in her 40s and had no preexisting conditions to our knowledge. Will she recover? Probably. But the interruption to her work and family life (not to mention the actual suffering of being very sick for that long) is something I’d like to avoid. You are right, though, that a lot of people feel it isn’t so bad, and that’s true. . . for them.

The perverse thing about this virus, besides how very contagious it is, is that such a large percentage (currently thought to be 20%) of people are truly asymptomatic. They never know they have the virus, and if they aren’t taking precautions like social distancing and wearing masks, they can spread it everywhere they go. There are also pre-symptomatic people spreading the virus, as well as the people who notice mild symptoms but don’t change their behavior or get tested because it will mean a big interruption to their life.

I was SO tempted recently, when I started to feel tightness in my chest and an increasing compulsion to cough, to say nothing, do nothing. I really didn’t want to have to tell our nanny to stay away for over a week, and get tested, and isolate like I knew I would need to until the result came back. My husband supported my decision to do these things, but we both worried I was overreacting because I didn’t seem very sick at all. But I kept thinking, what if it is COVID? The thought of spreading it to our nanny’s daughter, who has asthma, or friends at church made me do it. It’s been a pain, but I’m glad I did it, even though I tested negative and some would call that a waste. There are definitely costs to doing the right thing. I say that knowing I come from a privileged place where there weren’t significant financial implications for our family.

Right now, as the virus spreads out of control in so many parts of the country, we aren’t testing enough people, and the results are taking so long they are effectively rendered useless. Most people are not going to quarantine unless they know they have the virus. The positivity rate where we live is 16.3% (for reference, a number 3% or below indicates sufficient testing is taking place), and our ICU beds are at 100% capacity. The situation looks better in your county, but it’s still considered an “active or imminent outbreak.”

As of today, cases are up 59% compared to 14 days ago, hospitalizations are up 50%, and deaths are up 62% nationwide. The latter two are of course lagging indicators. We’ll see many, many more people die than would normally simply because hospitals can’t care for everyone who is sick. The strain on healthcare workers is devastating.

Sorry to be so negative here. There’s still the question of what to do during this time. Health officials are really encouraging people not to meet indoors with people outside their immediate household, and if they must, then do so with masks. Indoor settings with poor ventilation are significantly more dangerous than outdoor settings. We know now the virus can spread through the air much further than 6 feet. Small indoor gatherings and group meals are considered risky.

Because the numbers were getting so bad here, after Halloween we made the unpopular decision to require masks for everyone if someone outside our family comes inside our home, or if we go to someone else’s. It means our nanny and the kids now wear a mask for hours a day inside our own home, which I hate, but I also feel much safer.

We have taken additional precautions in the last couple of weeks in anticipation of my mother-in-law coming for Thanksgiving. In light of recent guidance from the CDC, however, we’ve mutually decided it’s best for her to not come. I feel conflicted about this, since we don’t want her to be alone. As we head into winter, a lot of people will be contending with increased loneliness and isolation in addition to anxiety about COVID-19.

set dining room table

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

It helps that my mother-in-law is taking this seriously and wants to stay safe. It’s harder for families who disagree or aren’t even talking about it. My mom was telling me last night that her cousin, in her 80s and in poor health, plans to host Thanksgiving for her extended family, but doesn’t want to. She feels like she can’t be the one to call it off because it’s her husband’s side of the family, and she wishes they would be the ones to decide not to come. To me that is so very sad they haven’t had an honest conversation about it. For many families who choose to gather during the holidays, this may be the last time they do so with their loved ones.

These will be a difficult next few months. But come spring and summer, when a vaccine is widely available and people can be outside again, we’ll see better days. We just have to stay the course a while longer and make sacrifices to protect the vulnerable ones in our community.

Love you,

About the author

Kathryn Applegate

Kathryn Applegate

Kathryn Applegate is a former Program Director at BioLogos. While working on her PhD in computational cell biology at  Scripps Research (La Jolla, CA), she became passionate about building bridges between the church and the scientific community. In 2010, she joined the BioLogos staff where she has the privilege of writing, speaking, and working with a wide variety of scholars and educators to develop new science and faith resources. Kathryn co-edited with Jim Stump How I Changed My Mind About Evolution (InterVarsity Press, 2016). Among many other projects during her time at BioLogos, Kathryn most recently led the development of Integrate, a new science and faith curriculum for home educators and teachers at Christian schools. Kathryn and her family enjoy exploring the beaches and state parks of Michigan and are helping to plant a new PCA church in Grand Rapids.