Pandemic perseverance


Runners prepare months in advance to run a marathon and develop strategies to get them through the demanding 26.2-mile event. Health experts and scientists caution us that getting through the COVID-19 pandemic is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. The analogy may fall flat for many of us, none of whom signed up for this marathon. However, seven months into this pandemic, with the number of infections on the rise, the marathon analogy seems applicable. Even Catholics, who walk by faith and not by sight, need the strategies of a marathoner to overcome a sense of malaise, and what epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm calls “pandemic anger.”

Dr. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota (CIDRAP), explained in an Oct. 1 CIDRAP podcast why spikes occur in this persistent, baffling disease (

Memorial Day weekend celebrations, reopening of the economy, elected officials’ relaxation of restrictions, and students returning to colleges and universities and socializing without physical distancing all have challenged efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Add to those challenges continuing media coverage about how bad things are regarding the pandemic, racial inequalities, mass protests and false claims that COVID-19 is a hoax. All of these factors add frustration, fatigue and miles to the marathon.

“I only see this journey getting more difficult. And we just have to understand that because as we’re in this long-term marathon it doesn’t help to address it as a sprint.” Many of us are in denial. We figure that we can fudge a bit on safety and health protocols and when we get away with it, we fudge a bit more and then resume pre-pandemic behavior. The consequence of throwing caution to the wind: more than 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone. We cannot quit, no matter how fatigued or angry we feel about this pandemic that has upended our lives. How do we manage? How do we complete the race and keep the faith, to borrow a phrase from St. Paul (2 Timothy 4:7).


Running experts advise first-time marathoners to focus on pacing, self-discipline, avoidance of long lines to the restrooms and planning to have a friend cheer them on somewhere along the route. Good advice for the pandemic, as well. Specifically, persons of faith can make it through the pandemic keeping in mind these tips, based largely on Dr. Osterholm’s advice:

• Pay attention to your surroundings at all times. Think about crowds, where you are at, who you are with, family reunions, funerals, weddings, get-togethers small and large. A dad who takes a vanload of young men to a sports event would not be problematic pre-COVID-19. Today it presents a risk to virus exposure.

• Wear a mask. It is not the end-all, save-all practice, but an important layer of protection.

• Acknowledge human frailties. “We all have frailties of not making good choices,” Dr. Osterholm said. “Sometimes when we’re feeling lonely and feeling unsettled … we don’t necessarily make all the right choices.”

• Accept that a vaccine will not save us, in and of itself. Realistically, it could be months before a safe, well-tested vaccine is available, distributed first to frontline healthcare and other essential workers and the most vulnerable folks among us.

• Accept adjustments in life. COVID-19 will affect us for a long time to come. We have to “keep planning for that and plan for that in a way that is not just about addressing the virus, but about addressing society,” Dr. Osterholm says.

• Address mental health issues. This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. The Diocese of Davenport’s Faith Formation Office offered online seminars on that topic this week. Visit the website at for more information and a toolkit (

• Plan now for the upcoming holidays with loved ones. Think about the logistics of gathering safely with a limited number of loved ones. Try to be understanding, tolerant and flexible while sticking with the recommended CDC and diocesan safety and health protocols.

CIDRAP podcast host Chris Dall asked listeners to spark a pandemic of kindness. We need this balm more than ever. Its source comes from prayer and patient interactions with others. We are companions on a marathon we did not sign up for but must complete. Let us “persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1).

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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