How will a virtuous person respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Predation – one species propagating and surviving at the expense of one or more other species – is widespread on earth. COVID-19 in attacking humans is doing exactly what viruses and other predators do: spreading its genes at the incidental expense of other species. In the case of COVID-19, human attention has focused on the virus because our species was previously unaware of it and we are the virus’ primary victim. Initially identified in humans in Wuhan, China, the virus has spread and now become a global pandemic.

How will a virtuous person respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

First, a virtuous person will respond courageously, not yielding to worry, fear or panic. The person will take appropriate and recommended precautions, e.g., frequent hand washing and staying three feet or further from infected persons. Then the person will relax. Having taken all recommend precautions, worrying about COVID-19 will only sap one’s strength, erode one’s health and produce other negative effects. Fear and panic are similarly counterproductive.

Second, a virtuous person will act prudentially by obtaining information on COVID-19 only from legitimate health authorities and recognized scientific sources such as the Centers for Disease Control or a knowledgeable physician. Nobody has a “natural understanding” of the virus. Seek wisdom and truth. Ignore media reports that are more hype than fact.

Third, a virtuous person will prepare for some economic hardship and perhaps temporary effects of short-term quarantine. Italians, now living with severe domestic travel restrictions and the closing of most commercial enterprises, will soon experience shortages of some goods and, in some cases, income. More broadly, worldwide response to COVID-19 is likely to trigger a recession. State- or self-imposed quarantines will probably become more common, so keeping a two-week supply of foodstuffs, medicine and other essential consumables on hand is advisable. Act with temperance; avoid hoarding and other selfish acts.

Fourth, a virtuous person will be of good hope. COVID-19’s spread is waning in Wuhan, as is typical of viruses. Warmer weather may also diminish the COVID-19 threat. Additionally, authorities’ best estimate of the virus’ mortality rate (i.e., the percent of infected persons who die from the virus) is less than 1%. (Some demographics are at a much higher risk, including the elderly and those who suffer from heart disease and a limited number of other pre-existing conditions.) COVID-19 appears very unlikely to kill people on the scale of either notorious viruses such as the Spanish influenza or bacteria such as the one that caused the bubonic plague. In the words of Scripture, this (COVID-19) too shall pass, perhaps in the summer, perhaps next fall or next year, but this too shall pass.

Fifth, a virtuous person will remain an active member of a healthy community or communities. Health in this context connotes the quality of interpersonal relationships, not physical well-being. Mutual respect and concern for the other’s well-being characterize healthy relationships. Humans are relational beings who never exist in isolation – except in a flawed, imaginary pretense. Nevertheless, COVID-19 may prompt persons temporarily adjusting how they practice healthy relationships. Sight, words and electronic media may have to suffice. A virtuous person will similarly respect another’s choice to refrain from touching others, receive only the bread at Holy Communion, etc.

In sum, a virtuous will recognize that COVID-19 poses a serious but not a global existential threat. Virtuous persons will respond with courage, prudence, temperance, hope and love, both for self and others.


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