A Winnipeg doctor, and Christ-follower, is calling on Christians to combat COVID-19 with love for others. That means both how we treat one another in public and online, and that means doing things like wearing masks, he says.

Dr. Timothy Ross was baptized in a Mennonite church at the age of 16 and today he calls Oasis Church in Winnipeg home. He's also been practicing medicine for the past 16 years.

He offered his medical opinion into the realities of COVID-19, as well as his opinion as a Christian on what following Jesus in the midst of a pandemic looks like.

For Ross, responding in love and care for others means wearing a mask. "I can't love my community and my family if I risk making them sick and so I mask in public," he says in an email conversation.

While masks don't completely stop the spread of COVID-19, studies have shown that they significantly slow the spread when worn by infected people.

"I do this all day long with no ill effects - just as my surgical colleagues and nurses in the OR have done for decades."

Listen to the full conversation

You can listen to the full conversation with Dr. Ross, here, and read below for some of the highlights.

Is COVID just the flu?

"Absolutely not," Ross says when asked if COVID is just another flu. "No, so far COVID has killed over four times as many people as the flu of last year."

There have been 87 deaths related to COVID-19 so far in Manitoba. In the 2018-19 flu season, there were 17 flu-related deaths according to the Province of Manitoba.

"If we look at the worst flu we've had in the last 10 years or so, I think COVID has killed twice as many," says Ross. The flu season of 2017-18 brought the 10-year highs for the flu, with 46 deaths, 35 ICU admissions and 505 hospitalizations. Manitoba Health is gathering total numbers, but there are currently 140 people in hospital and 21 in ICU due to COVID-19.

Ross also points out that for some people who recover from COVID, they're left with lingering symptoms. "Up to 10 per cent of people have long COVID symptoms. Which is to say they'll have ongoing distress, in terms of either difficult breathing, fatigue, weakness, a variety of symptoms for which we really have no other adequate explanation, that are new to the patient since having contracted and suffered with coronavirus." 

Aren't the numbers blown out of proportion?

"Since I've been reading about this in January or February, I've known that eventually, it's possible that everybody is going to contract this at some point," Ross says. "I'm not under any allusion that it's going to be a widespread problem, but I was in support of early lockdown because of the concern of what we're seeing now." 

That concern, he says, is the fact that 11-12 percent of everyone who contracts the virus requires hospitalization, while 5-6 per cent of everyone who contracts it is placed in the ICU. He says he worries that the system can be quite easily overwhelmed with those numbers.

"Five to six per cent of 500 people, if that's how many people were to contract it, ending up in the ICU, well, that would be more than half the available ICU space, depending on which resources are available and so on."

How do you think Christians in Manitoba should be responding right now?

"I think with all things, Christians should be responding with love. That's the first thing that we're called to; without that, we're just really muck on the bottom of the shoe. We're not fulfilling the (greatest commandment)."

Part of loving others, Ross says, is caring for our neighbours, especially those who are vulnerable. That can include donating to local charities, to ensure that the most vulnerable in society continue to be cared for.

"The next way we should respond is to secure the vulnerable, the frail and elderly, and secure the people who are in danger of this thing right now."

Ross suggests that those who aren't at-risk should offer to shop for neighbours and help with other chores so that those who are more at-risk can stay at home and avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Should churches continue to gather?

While Ross loves gathering with his church family to worship, he feels suspending in-person gatherings right now is the right call. "I was very pleased to see my pastor at Oasis take the sensible measure to move to virtual even though they were already following the guidelines and regulations, and even more so."

He says he commends churches and leaders that have made the decision to suspend gatherings for now. "It's not always easy to do; to take something you've done, that's integral to you and who you are, as leading a worship service and being there for other people, and to move that online."

Pastors have found themselves in a tough spot as they seek to navigate the waters of COVID. Many have found congregations divided no matter the choices they've made, with some upset if gatherings are moved online, and others upset if in-person gatherings take place.

"Again, we go back to what I was saying initially. The congregation has to respond in love." Ross says congregants should understand that pastors are doing their best in a tough situation.

Ross says that gathering to spend prolonged periods of time together and singing is not a wise medical decision at this time.