By / Apr 12

Every sector of our economy made adjustments over the past two years in response to the global pandemic, creating new norms and challenges for us all. Many of us experienced this change in virtual learning, increased Zoom meetings, or online worship services from our living rooms. I don’t want to debate the pros and cons of this shift, but I do want to highlight a change that many may not have even realized was happening in communities across the country. This silent but critical change involved abortion pills and the increased ease at which women could recieve them. 

Telehealth was once a privilege for a few, but is now a common practice for most. This makes life easier for patients, medical offices, and for the everyday American dealing with a full calendar. Telehealth, however, also makes abortion much easier to access, with little to no oversight, and allows for mailboxes to become makeshift abortion clinics in every corner of our country. This dangerous precedent, highlighted by Planned Parenthood’s telehealth expansion to all 50 states in 2020, will only further the upward trend we are seeing across the abortion landscape as chemical or medical abortion (abortion by pill) went from 39% of all abortions in 2017 to 53% of all abortions in 2020. We do not anticipate seeing these numbers decline anytime soon as the FDA continues to make obtaining these pills easier and the abortion industry seeks to make up deficits as more and more pro-life states are successful in restricting abortion access. 

Proactive planning 

This is why post-Roe planning is so important and must be front of mind for Christians and for those on the frontlines of this work in pregnancy centers around our country. As we anxiously await the decision of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, we must not sit on our hands. We must be prepared to act now. At Hope Resource Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, we have been proactive in offering virtual services for parenting education and mentoring. Many centers like us have also implemented their own telehealth options to connect and serve women in need. In addition, we have allocated large amounts of our budgets to reach women in our communities via digital marketing. We do not have the budget of the abortion industry, but that doesn’t mean we should disengage from the work at hand. Instead, we get creative, offer high-quality services, and provide free expert medical care to women and moms in need. 

We are on the cusp of a monumental court decision in the coming months. If and when Roe is overturned, we should celebrate. We should take a moment to honor those who have fought for this outcome, to mourn those we have lost, and to recognize the very courageous and bold decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in such a time as this. This victory lap, however sweet it will be, must quickly transform to action as we seek to continue to serve and love those in need. This action must involve digital engagement with potential patients via marketing, education, and efficient telehealth expansion. 

How you can help 

Traditionally, we have not focused fundraising or partnership efforts on having a digital footprint. The past two years have brought a pendulum swing in this area as we now must focus efforts in these areas. We have done this in Knoxville by producing educational videos housed on our website and played in our lobby to highlight what a patient can expect when they schedule an appointment with us. We have also allocated a large percentage of our budget to reach the abortion-minded patient in our area via digital avenues like social media, Google, and SEO or website content. 

A digital marketing focus takes time, talent, and treasure. This is where the Church comes in. We now have metrics available to us that prove this model works. These metrics, coupled with the playbook we are seeing implemented by the abortion industry, is the call to action we have been waiting for. This heavy lift can be eased by Church engagement via dollars, volunteers, and connection. 

If we have learned anything over the past two years it is this; abortion does not discriminate, it does not take a holiday, and it does not pause for a pandemic. We have made great strides in this work over the last 50 or so years, but our work will not stop if Roe ends. It’s a giant step in the right direction, but the only way we truly honor those who have spent their lives fighting to see abortion ended is to continue that work today and tomorrow as we take up the baton, adapt, and make way for image-bearers to be loved well as life is celebrated and abortion becomes a footnote in history books. 

We cannot do this work in silos or apart from each other. As the Church, we must unify and lead the way to a post-Roe era. Our organization in Knoxville would not have been able to find success these past 25 years without the consistent and bold support of the local church. We are able to fund, expand, and efficiently deliver services because of these partnerships. This need will only increase if we enter into a post-Roe future. Church, we need you. We need your prayers, your time, and your treasure as we seek to serve and love vulnerable babies, dads, and moms in our communities. I trust and believe that we are up for the task, and I am grateful to stand with you today. 

By / Feb 25

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the decline of global democracy, and the Ahmaud Arbery federal murder trial. They also talk about the Queen’s recovery from COVID-19 and pursuing racial unity in the SBC. 

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. NBC News – Russia Launches Illegal Invasion of Ukraine
  2. Russia launched attacks on Ukraine from multiple fronts
  3. Putin’s speech
  4. Ukrainian president as a target
  5. Axios – Global democracy declines for 16th year, annual index finds
  6. CBS News – Ahmaud Arbery federal murder trial
  7. NBC News – Queen postpones more events after Covid positive

Lunchroom

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Sponsors

  • Prison Fellowship | Second Chance Month // Every person has dignity and potential. But one in three American adults has a criminal record, which limits their access to education, jobs, housing, and other things they need to reach that potential. Join Prison Fellowship this April as they celebrate “Second Chance Month”. Find out how you and your church can help unlock second chances for formerly incarcerated people who have repaid their debt to society. Learn how at prisonfellowship.org.
  • Psalm 139 Project // Through the Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC is placing 50 ultrasound machines by the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 2023, and thanks to the overwhelming generosity of Southern Baptists and our pro-life partners, we’re already halfway to our goal. But requests for these lifesaving machines continue to pour in from around the country, and our team can’t keep up without your help. Will you take a stand for life by helping us place our next ultrasound machine? One hundred percent of financial contributions designated to the Psalm 139 Project go toward purchasing ultrasound machines and providing training for workers. Learn more at ERLC.com/50by50.
By / Feb 18

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss the ERLC’s board of trustees voting to move forward with the sexual abuse assessment of the SBC, a likely Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the pandemic slowing and becoming endemic. They also discuss evaluating our social media engagement and the SBC’s history within the pro-life movement.

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Sexual Abuse Assessment of the SBC 
  2. Russian amassing more troops on Ukrainian border
  3. Russia invasion likely in next few days
  4. U.S. sends more aid to Poland as preparation for conflict continues
  5. America’s uneven pandemic off ramp

Lunchroom

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • Prison Fellowship | Second Chance Month // Every person has dignity and potential. But one in three American adults has a criminal record, which limits their access to education, jobs, housing, and other things they need to reach that potential. Join Prison Fellowship this April as they celebrate “Second Chance Month”. Find out how you and your church can help unlock second chances for formerly incarcerated people who have repaid their debt to society. Learn how at prisonfellowship.org.
  • Psalm 139 Project // Through the Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC is placing 50 ultrasound machines by the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 2023, and thanks to the overwhelming generosity of Southern Baptists and our pro-life partners, we’re already halfway to our goal. But requests for these lifesaving machines continue to pour in from around the country, and our team can’t keep up without your help. Will you take a stand for life by helping us place our next ultrasound machine? One hundred percent of financial contributions designated to the Psalm 139 Project go toward purchasing ultrasound machines and providing training for workers. Learn more at ERLC.com/50by50.
By / Jan 28

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss Justice Breyer’s retirement announcement, latest developments in Ukraine, and Omicron’s slow-down. They are talk about the critical work of pregnancy resource centers, the irony of the transgender revolution, and creation care. 

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Justice Breyer to retire; Context of the announcement
  2. Developments with Ukraine
  3. Omicron loosening its grip
  4. Jeopardy winning streak for transgender woman 

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Sponsors

  • The Big Wide Welcome // This episode was brought to you by The Good Book Company, publisher of The Big Wide Welcome by Trillia Newbell. Building on the popular book God’s Very Good Idea, The Big Wide Welcome inspires kids to be like Jesus and love others. Grab your copy and some free coloring sheets at thegoodbook.com.
  • Prison Fellowship — Second Chance Month // Every person has dignity and potential. But one in three American adults has a criminal record, which limits their access to education, jobs, housing, and other things they need to reach that potential. Join Prison Fellowship this April as they celebrate “Second Chance Month”. Find out how you and your church can help unlock second chances for formerly incarcerated people who have repaid their debt to society. Learn how at prisonfellowship.org.
By / Jan 21

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss President Biden’s press conference, the trust deficit in the U.S., and the failure of changing the filibuster. They also talk about a COVID-19 blind date that lasted for days, the pro-life movement and human dignity, and the value of senior adults. 

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. President Biden’s first year press conference 
  2. The U.S. has a trust deficit
  3. Attempt to change filibuster fails 
  4. Blind date lasts for days during COVID lockdowns 

Lunchroom

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • The Big Wide Welcome // This episode was brought to you by The Good Book Company, publisher of The Big Wide Welcome by Trillia Newbell. Building on the popular book God’s Very Good Idea, The Big Wide Welcome inspires kids to be like Jesus and love others. Grab your copy and some free coloring sheets at thegoodbook.com.
  • Prison Fellowship — Second Chance Month // Every person has dignity and potential. But one in three American adults has a criminal record, which limits their access to education, jobs, housing, and other things they need to reach that potential. Join Prison Fellowship this April as they celebrate “Second Chance Month”. Find out how you and your church can help unlock second chances for formerly incarcerated people who have repaid their debt to society. Learn how at prisonfellowship.org.
By / Jan 14

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss U.S. and Russia negotiations, the prevalence of the Omicron variant, and why store shelves are so empty. They also talk about the drama between Australia and Novak Djokovic, protecting your children from social media’s harms, and ethical issues in technology to watch in 2022.

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. U.S. and Russian negotiations lead nowhere
  2. Fauci: Omicron will find “virtually everybody”
  3. McConnell takes issue with Biden’s big voting rights speech
  4. Why are store shelves empty? 
  5. Will Novak Djokovic play tennis in Australia? 

Lunchroom

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • The Big Wide Welcome // This episode was brought to you by The Good Book Company, publisher of The Big Wide Welcome by Trillia Newbell. Building on the popular book God’s Very Good Idea, The Big Wide Welcome inspires kids to be like Jesus and love others. Grab your copy and some free coloring sheets at thegoodbook.com.
  • Prison Fellowship — Second Chance Month // Every person has dignity and potential. But one in three American adults has a criminal record, which limits their access to education, jobs, housing, and other things they need to reach that potential. Join Prison Fellowship this April as they celebrate “Second Chance Month”. Find out how you and your church can help unlock second chances for formerly incarcerated people who have repaid their debt to society. Learn how at prisonfellowship.org.
By / Jan 13

Today, in a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), issued through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). On Jan. 7, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for emergency requests challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates. Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented in this opinion.

What was the OSHA mandate?

The stated purpose of the OSHA mandate was “to protect unvaccinated employees of large employers (100 or more employees) from the risk of contracting COVID-19 by strongly encouraging vaccination.” The intent to issue this rule was announced in September by President Biden, but the text of the rule was issued in November.

The rule states that “covered employers must develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, with an exception for employers that instead adopt a policy requiring employees to either get vaccinated or elect to undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work in lieu of vaccination.”

In short, the rule required employers with 100 or more employees to submit their employees to weekly COVID-19 testing and masking requirements, or the employees could opt to receive one of the three vaccines that are approved or authorized for the prevention of COVID-19 in the U.S.: Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson.

The OSHA rule would have affected approximately 84 million private-sector workers across the country, including some 31 million who are believed to be unvaccinated.

In the opinion released today, the majority on the court noted, “OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress.” In fact, Congress declined to enact any measure similar to the OSHA mandate. They also noted that “(p)rior to the emergence of COVID–19, the Secretary had used this power just nine times before (and never to issue a rule as broad as this one). Of those nine emergency rules, six were challenged in court, and only one of those was upheld in full.”

What did SCOTUS say today? 

The majority writes, “Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life––simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock––would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.” 

They go on to state, “It is telling that OSHA, in its half century of existence, has never before adopted a broad public health regulation of this kind—addressing a threat that is untethered, in any causal sense, from the workplace. This ‘lack of historical precedent,’ coupled with the breadth of authority that the Secretary now claims, is a ‘telling indication’ that the mandate extends beyond the agency’s legitimate reach.”

Justices Gorsuch, Thomas, and Alito clearly spelled out the heart of the issue in their concurring opinion:

The central question we face today is: Who decides? No one doubts that the COVID–19 pandemic has posed challenges for every American. Or that our state, local, and national governments all have roles to play in combating the disease. The only question is whether an administrative agency in Washington, one charged with overseeing workplace safety, may mandate the vaccination or regular testing of 84 million people. Or whether, as 27 States before us submit, that work belongs to state and local governments across the country and the people’s elected representatives in Congress. This Court is not a public health authority. But it is charged with resolving disputes about which authorities possess the power to make the laws that govern us under the Constitution and the laws of the land.

Ultimately, the court ruled that OSHA does not have the authority to develop such a broad sweeping policy without Congress’ clear authorization. 

What about healthcare workers?

In a separate decision released today, the court by a 5–4 vote, allowed the administration’s vaccine mandate for workers in most healthcare settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, including but not limited to hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, and home health agencies. While the OSHA mandate allowed weekly testing for unvaccinated employees, the mandate for healthcare workers does not. Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Barrett dissented in this decision.

The court reasoned that “Congress has authorized the Secretary [of Health and Human Services] to impose conditions on the receipt of Medicaid and Medicare funds that ‘the Secretary finds necessary in the interest of the health and safety of individuals who are furnished services’” and that “the Secretary did not exceed his statutory authority in requiring that, in order to remain eligible for Medicare and Medicaid dollars, the facilities covered by the interim rule must ensure that their employees be vaccinated against COVID–19.”

The dissenting justices argued that the government did not sufficiently show that they have the statutory authority to issue the rule. Additionally, in Justice Alito’s dissent, it was maintained that this rule harmfully extends the Executive Branch’s authority and “will ripple through administrative agencies’ future decision making.”

How does this affect SBC entities?

On Nov. 5, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and Asbury Theological Seminary filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to challenge the OSHA rule. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of SBTS, stated that “it is unacceptable for the government to force religious institutions to become coercive extensions of state power. We have no choice but to push back against this intrusion of the government into matters of conscience and religious conviction.”

According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, 

 . . . the lawsuit The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, alleges that the Biden administration lacks jurisdiction to dictate employment practices to religious institutions, lacks constitutional and statutory authority to issue the employer mandate, and that the mandate failed to meet the required procedural hurdles. In short, the federal government cannot coerce individuals nationwide to undergo medical treatment, and it lacks authority to conscript employers to compel that result.

The Southern Seminary lawsuit was consolidated with multiple other cases that made up the OSHA case that the Supreme Court heard on Jan. 7, with the Alliance Defending Freedom representing the groups.

Additionally, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) vaccine mandate affects faith-based organizations such as the Baptist Homes and Healthcare Ministries, Christian ministries that provide independent living and skilled nursing care to the aging and elderly.  

How should Christians think about this?

The ERLC has emphatically stated since the beginning of this public health challenge that government officials should opt for providing guidance over mandates. Moreover, we have continually advised elected officials and local health experts to actively seek partnership opportunities with pastors and churches in order to serve local communities as this pandemic rages on.

Brent Leatherwood, ERLC’s acting president, remarked on today’s decisions:

As any student of American civics will tell you, every two years, we cast ballots to determine who should represent us in Congress –– the legislative arm of our federal government that is tasked with establishing policies of national interest. This is a simple rule of our constitutional system, and it is where the U.S. Supreme Court grounded today’s decision on the OSHA mandate. The court rightly decided the rule was far too broad and vast in its reach to be developed by an agency in the Executive Branch. The court did not deny more targeted regulations could be utilized in certain settings, which is why it allowed the CMS requirement to move forward in healthcare facilities. Though the goal of achieving a higher vaccination rate is proper and warranted, ultimately, a policy of this magnitude requires Congress to speak and, thus far, it has been silent.

During this ongoing pandemic, the ERLC will continue to represent the interests of Southern Baptist before the courts, Congress, and the administration.

By / Jan 7

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in emergency requests challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates. The justices have declined to hear oral arguments in cases regarding state-level mandates, and this is the first case related to vaccine mandates they have agreed to hear. 

What are the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates?

There are two vaccine mandates that the Biden administration has issued — one dealing with large employers and the other dealing with healthcare workers. 

OSHA vaccine mandate

On Nov. 4, the Biden administration, through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), issued a COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). The stated purpose of this rule is “to protect unvaccinated employees of large employers (100 or more employees) from the risk of contracting COVID-19 by strongly encouraging vaccination.” The intent to issue this rule was announced in September by President Biden, but the text of the rule was issued in November.

The rule states that “covered employers must develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, with an exception for employers that instead adopt a policy requiring employees to either get vaccinated or elect to undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work in lieu of vaccination.”

In short, the rule requires employers with 100 or more employees to submit their employees to weekly COVID-19 testing and masking requirements, or the employees can opt to receive one of the three vaccines that are approved or authorized for the prevention of COVID-19 in the U.S.: Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson.

The OSHA rule will affect approximately 84 million private-sector workers across the country, including some 31 million who are believed to be unvaccinated.

It’s important to note that this rule doesn’t require an employee to receive the vaccine, but if they choose not to be vaccinated, they must undergo testing every week. 

CMS vaccine mandate

The second vaccination mandate is issued from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and requires COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in most healthcare settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, including but not limited to hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, and home health agencies. 

The key difference between the two mandates is that the OSHA mandate allows weekly testing as an alternative to receiving the vaccine.

Are there religious exemptions?

There are three exemptions listed in the OSHA rule:

  1. For whom a vaccine is medically contraindicated;
  2. For whom medical necessity requires a delay in vaccination; or
  3. Who are legally entitled to a reasonable accommodation under federal civil rights laws because they have a disability or sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances that conflict with the vaccination requirement.

While there are stated religious liberty exemptions, it is concerning that the ETS requires each covered employer to establish and implement their own written policy regarding religious exemptions. With this rule, each employer is effectively tasked with creating their own policies, and there will be thousands of different policies throughout the country, leading to inconsistent application and confusion. The proposed OSHA rule doesn’t offer any guidance for how to structure exemptions for objectors who have sincerely held religious beliefs.

The CMS rule also allows for religious exemptions and states that “employers have the flexibility to establish their own processes and procedures, including forms.” It also states, “we point to The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force’s ‘request for a religious exception to the COVID–19 vaccination requirement’ template as an example.”

How did these cases reach the Supreme Court?

After the OHSA mandate was issued, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ordered a stay of the vaccine mandate and halted enforcement. According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, 

“ . . . multiple lawsuits were filed all over the country, allowing the government to seek a consolidation and transfer to a randomly designated court. The 6th Circuit was selected to handle the consolidated OSHA case. The three-judge panel for the 6th Circuit lifted the stay previously issued by the 5th Circuit that had halted enforcement of the vaccine mandate for private employers with 100 or more employees. In a separate order only days before, a group of eight judges on the 6th Circuit indicated their view that the mandate is unlawful.”

OSHA has stated that it will be exercising “enforcement discretion with respect to the compliance dates of the ETS. To provide employers with sufficient time to come into compliance, OSHA will not issue citations for noncompliance with any requirements of the ETS before January 10 and will not issue citations for noncompliance with the standard’s testing requirements before February 9, so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard.”

Following decisions by the Court of Appeals for the 5th, 8th, and 11th Circuit, the United States District Court and the Northern District of Texas, the CMS vaccine requirement is preliminary enjoined in 25 states. CMS announced that those states are not required to comply, pending further developments in litigation. However, in the states and the District of Columbia, the rule will be implemented and enforced, following a modified timeline. The deadline for implementing Phase 1 is Jan, 27, 2022, and the deadline for Phase 2 implementation is Feb. 28, 2022.

How does this affect SBC entities?

On Nov. 5, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and Asbury Theological Seminary filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to challenge the OSHA rule. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of SBTS, stated that “it is unacceptable for the government to force religious institutions to become coercive extensions of state power. We have no choice but to push back against this intrusion of the government into matters of conscience and religious conviction.”

According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, 

“ . . . the lawsuit The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, alleges that the Biden administration lacks jurisdiction to dictate employment practices to religious institutions, lacks constitutional and statutory authority to issue the employer mandate, and that the mandate failed to meet the required procedural hurdles. In short, the federal government cannot coerce individuals nationwide to undergo medical treatment, and it lacks authority to conscript employers to compel that result.”

The Southern Seminary lawsuit has been consolidated with multiple other cases that now make up the OSHA case SCOTUS is hearing today, with the Alliance Defending Freedom representing the groups.

Additionally, the CMS vaccine mandates impacts faith-based organizations such as the Baptist Homes and Healthcare Ministries, Christian ministries that provide independent living and skilled nursing care to the ageist and elderly.  

Is this the proper role of the government?

These rules raise questions and concerns about limits of government regulation both in terms of public health and safety measures. While governments do have heightened responsibilities during a public health crisis, the state must not use public health emergencies to overstep and exert authority that the Constitution has not entrusted it with.

How will the ERLC engage?

The OSHA interim final rule is open for public comments through Jan. 19, 2022. As we have done on previous occasions with proposed rules affecting churches and religious organizations, the ERLC will submit public comments expressing concerns with the scope of the regulation on behalf of our convention of churches. 

How should Christians think about this?

The ERLC has emphatically stated since the beginning of this public health challenge that government officials should opt for providing guidance over mandates, while at the same time seeking to uphold the free exercise of religion. Elected officials and local health experts should be actively partnering with pastors and churches to serve local communities as this pandemic rages on.

By / Jan 7

Nearly two years after the start of the pandemic, the variant known as Omicron has led to a rapidly increasing number of new infections. It has also brought with it a deluge of news tied to COVID-19. To keep you up to date, here is a round-up of COVID-related news in three broad areas — treatments, mandates, and court challenges. 

FDA approves new treatments 

Within the past six weeks, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for two new treatments for COVID-19. 

The first treatment, authorized in late November, is an intravenous (IV) infusion of casirivimab and imdevimab. When administered together, they are used to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients (12 years of age or older and weighing at least 88 pounds) who have tested positive and are at high risk for progressing to a more severe condition. The infusion is also authorized for those who are 65 years of age or older or who have certain chronic medical conditions.

In clinical trials, the infusion of casirivimab and imdevimab was shown to reduce COVID-19-related hospitalization or emergency room visits in patients at high risk for disease progression within 28 days after treatment. 

The Biden administration announced that it would purchase 20 treatment courses. President Biden said he was encouraged by the “promising data” from Pfizer and said the drug would “mark a significant step forward in our path out of the pandemic.”

The second treatment, authorized in late December, is Pfizer’s Paxlovid, an antibody pill that can be taken orally. This drug is also used to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients (12 years of age and older and  weighing at least 88 pounds) who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death. Paxlovid is available by prescription only and needs to be initiated as soon as possible after diagnosis of COVID-19 and within five days of symptom onset. It is not recommended in patients with severe kidney or severe liver impairment.

“Monoclonal antibodies target the spike protein on the outside of the virus and they need to be given as an injection or infusion,” said Dr. Ryan Bariola, infectious diseases director at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “whereas the oral antivirals, they’re pills, they can be taken and target different parts of the virus lifecycle.”

Neither drug is considered a substitute for vaccinations and is not used for treatment in those requiring hospitalization due to severe or critical COVID-19. 

Masks mandates resume while schools shut down

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued guidance that Americans who contract COVID-19 or have not been boosted and are exposed to the virus can return to normal life after five days if they wear a mask. They recommend that those who have been exposed and tested negative wear a well-fitting mask when around others at home and in public until 10 days after your last close contact with someone with COVID-19.

If a person tests positive but has no symptoms, the CDC recommends isolating for at least five days from the date of a positive test. For those who develop COVID-19 symptoms, the recommendation is to isolate for at least five days from the date the symptoms began (the date the symptoms started is day 0).

The recommendation by the CDC to wear masks has led some states and cities to maintain or reimpose mask mandates. Currently, eight states — California, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington — require most people to wear masks in indoor public places, whether or not they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico also have similar mandates. 

Connecticut has an indoor mask mandate that applies to the unvaccinated, while Rhode Island requires masks for all large venues but gives smaller businesses leeway based on patrons’ vaccination status. Washington is the only state with an outdoor mask order, requiring face-covering at outside events attended by 500 or more people. 

Eleven states have not imposed mandates at any point during the pandemic, and some, including Florida, Iowa, Montana, Tennessee, and Texas, have legislation or executive action to prevent local governments and school districts from doing so. (AARP has a complete state-by-state guide to face mask requirements.)

President Biden says he’s committed to keeping schools open amid the latest surge in COVID-19 cases. “We know that our kids can be safe when in school,” said the president after meeting with the White House COVID-19 response team. “That’s why I believe that schools should remain open.” Many governors and mayors are also pushing for in-person learning. 

But many schools are closing because of a teacher shortage. A survey of K-12 school districts across the country found that 2,753 schools were closed in the week beginning Jan. 3. Most of the school closures involved classes going remote for the first one to two weeks of January.

As Joel Mathis points out, “In Miami, 10 percent of teachers are out sick — probably with COVID. In New York, about a third of the city’s students didn’t show up on Monday, and some of those who did couldn’t get breakfast because of a shortage of cafeteria workers. Similar problems are expected to pop up across the country in the coming days.” 

Chicago officials also canceled classes for hundreds of thousands of public school students because the city’s teachers union voted overwhelmingly (73%) for remote education.

Court challenges to COVID-related mandates and rules

Last week, a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Department of Defense (DoD) from punishing 35 members of the Navy who refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in compliance with the service’s vaccine mandate due to religious objections. The DoD issued a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for service members in August, and the Department of the Navy required all active-duty Navy personnel to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before Nov. 28 or face discipline. 

In their lawsuit, the Navy Special Warfare servicemembers allege that the military’s mandatory vaccination policy violates their religious freedoms under the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

“This Court does not make light of COVID-19’s impact on the military,” Judge Reed O’Connor writes in his order. “Collectively, our armed forces have lost 80 lives to COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic. But the question before the Court is not whether a public interest exists. Rather, this Court must address whether an injunction will disserve the public interest. An injunction does not disserve the public interest when it prevents constitutional deprivations.”

And today (Jan. 7), the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments on the legality of two federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates issued under the Biden administration. The justices will be considering four appeals — Biden et al. v. Missouri et al.; Becerra et al. v. Louisiana et al.; National Federation of Independent Business et al. v. Department of Labor et al.; and Ohio et al. v. Department of Labor et al. — which have been consolidated into two separate sets of oral arguments. (Of note, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is a party in this first set of cases.)

The first set of consolidated cases concerns the enforceability of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule issued last November that requires employers with 100 or more employees to ensure each of their workers is fully vaccinated or tests for COVID-19 on a weekly basis. That rule was upheld by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

The second set of consolidated cases concern a rule issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) last November that mandates staff working for Medicare or Medicaid certified providers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with narrow exceptions for religious and medical reasons. 

By / Jan 3

Donning full COVID-19 protective gear—two sets of gloves, a mask, a plastic face shield, and a hazmat-style jumpsuit—Rusty Ford, a church planter in Seville, Spain, entered a nursing home in crisis during the height of the pandemic in 2020. 

He’d spend the better part of the next two months serving in any needed capacity at Joaquín Rosillo nursing home in San Juan de Aznalfarache (Seville).1https://www.elmundo.es/an=dalucia/2020/04/06/5e8b2b52fdddff15aa8b4666.html This nursing home was deemed too dangerous for most people to enter. 

Each evening as he came home to his wife, Jennifer, and four small children, they’d go to one side of the house while he put his potentially compromised clothes in the wash and showered before touching them. 

By April 2020, nearly 80 residents of this home had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Twenty-four of the residents died due to complications from the disease. 

Spain was under lockdown, as panic ensued. At this point, no one knew how the virus was spreading or much about it at all. As the country remained locked down for a total of six weeks, with people not being allowed out of their homes except for trips to the hospital, pharmacy, or grocery store, Ford knew he had to do something. 

After going through the red tape to be allowed into this underserved facility, he was granted access. 

An open door to the underserved

In the nursing home, he did a little bit of everything, he explained. 

“I’d go into rooms and I’d help clean people. I’d help feed people. Basically, whatever needed to be taken care of, I was there to do,” Ford said.

Many of these elderly people already had limited mobility. During the first few weeks of his time there, the lockdown regulations didn’t allow them to move from room to room for meals or socialization. Residents were isolated. 

But, in Ford’s capacity as a volunteer, he was able to go into the rooms and visit with the residents. In a country that is less than 1% evangelical Christian, it was crucial to offer some form of hope in the height of the crisis. 

“I was getting chances to pray with people, because people are talking now,” he said. “Everybody I was dealing with has basically never heard the gospel. And I was also getting a chance to share the gospel with some of the coworkers.”

IMB president, Paul Chitwood, remarked, 

Rusty is but one among more than 3,600 IMB missionaries who have continued to share the gospel around the world in the midst of a global pandemic. With literally thousands of short-term mission trips cancelled over the past 18 months, Southern Baptists have not been left without a witness among the nations. The risks and challenges our missionaries continue to face in light of COVID-19 are enormous, but they remain hard at work. 

Eventually, the residents of the nursing home where Ford volunteered were allowed out of their rooms, socially distanced. The volunteer/intern manager approached Ford one day with an idea. 

“Rusty, you’re a priest, right?” he asked. Since the country is predominantly Catholic, the idea of a pastor wasn’t familiar. 

“More or less,” Ford answered. When the man asked Ford if he wanted to hold religious services, he jumped at the opportunity.

Within 20 minutes of the man asking Ford to speak to the residents, he was sharing the hope of the gospel with 12 residents before their exercise class. 

“There was a ton of hopelessness because they’ve seen 24 of their friends die, and lots of people were sick,” Ford said. “I got a chance to share the gospel with around 10 or 15 people.” 

After that first time, they decided to make the service a weekly thing. Every Monday at 10 a.m., he shared the love of Christ with the residents. The group grew to an average of 25 or 30. Of those, Ford could only identify one woman who was a believer.

Grateful for new opportunities to share Christ

Eventually, his (or other volunteers) being inside the facility became too much of a liability for the facility, so the ministry ended. 

Ford was thankful for the time serving in the nursing home, despite the risks involved. 

He was thankful to simply get out of the house, he joked, since being on lockdown in a townhouse with four small kids wasn’t easy. 

He was thankful for the opportunity to share the gospel, weekly, with 25-30 people who didn’t know Christ. 

But he was also thankful for the chance it gave him to expand his ministry out of the ordinary. 

“Typically, in our strategy [as church planters] we wouldn’t focus on nursing home residents,” he explained. “It’s totally outside of the box of our normal ministry.”

But he was glad to intentionally share Christ’s love and hope where he wouldn’t have been under normal circumstances. 

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