Worldwide concern about the virus known as COVID-19 continues to grow. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) is closely monitoring the situation to provide the best possible information and counsel to LCMS staff and missionaries who may be in areas of increased risk.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 is the newest strain in the category of virus known as coronaviruses. The WHO says coronaviruses “may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). … This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.”
According to the WHO, as of March 1, there were 87,137 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 2,873 deaths worldwide. The majority of confirmed cases and deaths are in China. The March 2 update from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports 43 confirmed cases and two deaths in the United States, but at this writing, news outlets in the U.S. are reporting a total of six deaths, all in the state of Washington.
Kendall Cortright, director of LCMS Missionary Services for the Office of International Mission (OIM), says that the OIM is actively gathering information about COVID-19 from multiple resources, including the CDC, WHO, safety and security organizations, government websites and news articles. The OIM has also been regularly communicating with LCMS staff and missionaries in the field to develop contingency plans for addressing the possible spread of the virus.
Cortright emphasizes that, at this time, no LCMS missionaries have been affected by COVID-19. All, he says, remain “safe and healthy.”
There are, however, several recent CDC travel advisories regarding COVID-19, several in areas where LCMS missionaries are located, including South Korea and Italy (CDC advisory level 3 – reconsider travel), Japan (level 2 – exercise increased caution) and Hong Kong (level 1 – exercise normal precautions). OIM will continue to monitor travel alerts, particularly in countries where the LCMS has missionaries and that have a level 2 advisory or higher. The OIM is recommending all deployed staff prepare in advance for logistical challenges related to travel bans on affected countries and keep their travel to affected countries with level 2 or higher to a minimum.
“The virus is quite frightening for many people,” Cortright notes, “but we recognize that its impact is relatively small in comparison to influenza, which so far this season has infected 26 million people, resulting in 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.”
Posted March 2, 2020