Luke 2:7 – And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
I read this verse a few days ago right after I read reports of hospitals running out of rooms (i.e., stretched capacity in terms of staffing, fatigue, and physical space). The similarities made me ask a few questions. Who are the ones running out of room and reserves? Who is the innkeeper in the story? And, how can I make room?
✅ 𝐎𝐮𝐫 𝐡𝐨𝐬𝐩𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐥𝐬 Nationwide, 78% of ICU beds are occupied (Picture 2). In my town (Waco), our two main hospitals are at 92% and 98% ICU capacity with 3 beds left. The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, right down the road, has 62 ICU beds left for 6 million people. Texas now has over 10,000 people in the hospitals, which is what we saw at the peak of our summer surge. I could give you statistic after statistic of the hospital surges in most states. If you look at Picture 3, you’ll see the increase in ICU beds in the country from October 8th to December 17th. Do NOT miss the legend – the lightest color means 75% occupancy. Our baseline for this map is 75% – this is the metric used in many states to trigger the start of surge protocols or reducing certain elective procedures. So, the lightest color does not mean things are good – it triggers an alert system of trending towards having no room.
✅ 𝐎𝐮𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐮𝐧𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐓𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐢𝐬 𝐚𝐥𝐬𝐨 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐚 𝐝𝐞𝐯𝐚𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐢𝐦𝐩𝐚𝐜𝐭 𝐨𝐧 𝐫𝐮𝐫𝐚𝐥 𝐡𝐨𝐬𝐩𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐥𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐮𝐧𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐚𝐥𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐝𝐲 𝐛𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐝𝐢𝐬𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐥𝐲 𝐝𝐢𝐬𝐚𝐝𝐯𝐚𝐧𝐭𝐚𝐠𝐞𝐝 𝐛𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐩𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐦𝐢𝐜. These communities are already “running out of room” by the pandemic. We have known this from the beginning, but we need to keep remembering. And, then remember again. We are all susceptible to COVID – it’s what happens after that matters. Can you get to care? Can you afford that care? What about your neighbors across your city, perhaps in poorer parts of town? If that is not equal, that is highlighting where there is no more room. Those are our neighbors and our actions affect them, regardless if we see them or not.
In LA, the MLK JR Community Hospital, which has a 29-bed ER, has 70 people being treated in the ER, nearly all are low-income and minority patients. The CEO said, “The African-American community is being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and we are seeing that in South LA and we’re also seeing that inside the hospital. We have more COVID patients now than hospitals that are 3 to 4 times larger than we are”, Dr. Elaine Batchlor said. 70% of Black Americans know someone who has died or been hospitalized due to COVID; compare that to 50% of Whites. Racial minority populations are also dying 10-20 years younger than their white counterparts. This is running out of room. (For more on this, I posted a link to MLK Jr’s last Christmas sermon in the source.)
✅ 𝐎𝐮𝐫 𝐡𝐞𝐚𝐥𝐭𝐡𝐜𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐤𝐞𝐫𝐬 Our healthcare providers, techs, janitorial staff, docs, nurses, social workers, chaplains are running out of room due to them getting sick or simply running out of mental rooms and reserves – they are tired and weary. In one LA hospital, one patient was dying every 30 minutes. 30 minutes. Picture 4 shows a story from a MD in California with an elderly couple saying good-bye to one another. If you are a front-line healthcare worker, you have likely experienced this. Look at the other pictures in this post from a NYT article highlighting the experiences of healthcare workers from Wisconsin to CA, in big and small hospitals. The weariness and fatigue from our healthcare workers are real, especially this holiday season when they see a reality in their jobs that does not match people’s actions in the community. At Christmas. In our Christmas church services.
𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞’𝐬 𝐧𝐨 𝐦𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐫𝐨𝐨𝐦 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐢𝐧𝐧 – 𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐲 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐟𝐢𝐠𝐮𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐞𝐥𝐲.
⭐ This brings me to tonight and this holiday season. Christmas Eve candlelight services are one of the most cherished traditions for many in the Christian faith community. It is one of my favorite traditions with my own little family as a powerful reminder of what the season means to us. This year, however, those services are risky in the midst of the biggest surge the US has seen so far in the pandemic.
𝐇𝐞𝐫𝐞’𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐨𝐩𝐩𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐮𝐧𝐢𝐭𝐲. 𝐖𝐞 𝐜𝐚𝐧 𝐡𝐞𝐥𝐩 “𝐦𝐚𝐤𝐞 𝐫𝐨𝐨𝐦” 𝐛𝐲 𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐜𝐡𝐨𝐢𝐜𝐞𝐬. We can make space for our hospitals, healthcare workers, and marginalized communities. What if our actions tonight on Christmas Eve with our services and this holiday season can be a symbol of standing in solidarity with those with no “room” – a symbol of witness to a baby born where there was no room to come make room for the sick, the poor, and the hurting. A few days ago, I wrote about reframing the advent season in the midst of the pandemic as a season of uncomfortable longing and hope with the shepherds – and, to adjust our priorities, behaviors, and actions accordingly. Today, I want to reframe our candlelight services on Christmas Eve with Luke 2:7 for the room-less. I will say it again – Christmas is not cancelled, it is magnified in an upside-down way that Jesus was always good at doing anyways – especially for those most in need. I don’t want to be the innkeeper in the story. I want to make room by my actions – for Jesus and for others.
-Friendly neighbor epidemiologist
***To the shepherds – Reframing advent during the pandemic – https://tinyurl.com/y9e9y56c
*** A note to clergy – I wanted to give some practical tips on how to meet for your services. With the surge being QUADRUPLE the rates we saw in the summer, the best thing to do is go fully online or outdoors (still masked and distanced). It is still not too late to make these decisions too. As a ministry family, I understand that last statement seems impractical since you have done a lot of planning already – but, most of you can still go online and broadcast your service while limiting who comes to your worship teams and staff. If you are a pastor at a large/mega-church and plan to have multiple services to limit capacity, this is still risky given the surge numbers. Please also give thought to who will clean the sanctuary, bathrooms, and halls between services. If you decide to meet indoors, mandatory masking and distancing for all congregants at all times is warranted. On a super-practical note, be cautious about asking people to blow out the candles. This increases the risk of spread (especially if you are indoors) due to needing to take the masks off and blowing.
I also want to say a major thank you to those that have taken the hard steps of loving your neighbors with the actions you have taken in your church. I know it has come at great costs to many of you and your families, especially those of you in the south. As I was praying for you all during my run this morning, I was reminded of some verses about those costs (Phil 3:10-11, Matthew 13:44, and 2 Corinthians 12:9). I know the costs are costly in 2020 – so, I also prayed Ephesians 3:14-21 for the immeasurable more that is promised.
*** To congregants – If you go to a church that does not require masking all the time (especially in the sanctuary), that is risky. Remember that my mask protects you and yours protect me. So, it’s not enough to wear yours and risk others not wearing theirs, especially right now in the pandemic. If you are going home to at-risk individuals or going to visit at-risk individuals any time in the 14 days after the service, you greatly risk taking COVID-19 with you. Please reconsider going to an indoor, in-person service and join online.
MLK’s last Christmas sermon – https://onbeing.org/blog/martin-luther-kings-last-christmas-sermon/
NY Times articles with pictures: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/27/health/covid-hospitals-overload.html