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Articles in this edition:

  • FDA slowed approval of machine that could replace 8 million masks
  • Church spends Easter making face masks
  • Science: Humans naturally excel at creative cooperation

FDA slowed approval of machine that could replace 8 million masks

Rev. Ben Johnson

When U.S. healthcare providers began running out of ventilators, the private sector came to the rescue. But when an Ohio-based nonprofit came up with a way to let doctors safely reuse existing masks multiple times, the FDA took its time granting approval.

Battelle CEO Lou Von Thaer said it created a process “years ago” to clean N95 masks, which the government recommended health professionals wear during the COVID-19 epidemic. He said its Critical Care Decontamination System allows ventilators to be used up to 20 times. Each machine can clean 80,000 masks a day and return them the same day. Battelle tracks each mask, and those that have been used 20 times or that have defects are thrown away.

Together, its five machines could clean 400,000 masks a day for up to 20 uses, reducing the number of single-use masks needed by 8 million.

However, the federal government delayed its response, then imposed a regulation that would have cut the machines’ effectiveness by 88 percent.

The FDA missed its own deadline to respond to Ohio’s inquiry. Officials ultimately called Lt. Gov. Jon Husted at 1:19 a.m. on a Sunday, saying it had granted approval—but only if Battelle limited the machines to cleaning 10,000 masks a day. The FDA offered no reason for the limitation. A letter from FDA Chief Scientist Denise Hinton, which instructed Battelle to “provide FDA weekly reports,” makes it clear the government intended to constrict the technology for weeks or months.

To confound things further, the FDA order acknowledged, “There is no adequate, approved, and available alternative to the emergency use of the Battelle Decontamination System for decontaminating compatible N95 respirators for reuse.”

After President Donald Trump’s personal intervention, FDA officials “compressed what would normally take a number of days … into a couple of hours,” Gov. Mike DeWine said. But it should not take a call from the president to expedite FDA approval of technology that serves a manifest public health need.

Church spends Easter making face masks

Joseph Sunde

Parishioners of Crossroads Church in Bluefield, West Virginia, spent Easter Sunday using 3-D printers to create face masks, shields, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for local healthcare workers. A total of 25 families took turns crafting masks, which were then in short supply, all the while assuring their work met or exceeded government standards. 

The church’s pastor, Travis Lowe—a leader in the faith-and-work community and a contributor to the Acton Powerblog—organized the event after a series of discussions with the Department of Health and Human Services and a regional hospital.

“We think our church, as well as our lives, should be a gift to our community. The gift that our community currently needs is PPEs, so we responded,” he said. “We have always looked for places where we could work for the flourishing of Bluefield.”

In fact, the facility where masks and materials were assembled is run by Crea Company, a community collective overseen by Lowe and another local pastor, Robbie Gaines. Founded as part of past economic initiatives, the company aims to bring together craftspeople to create “a movement of ‘Make + Believe’ that inspires hope in our community and region.”

Lowe saw both forms of outreach as ways of empowering his community through service and self-improvement. “When our businesses were struggling, we did this through hosting business owner round tables. When grief has been heavy in our community, we hold prayer vigils,” he said. “We do not see the community’s needs has being divided between spiritual and physical, or sacred and secular. We just try to minister to the needs of our community, whatever those needs are.”

It’s an inspiring story, demonstrating the transformative role that local institutions can play in times of crisis. But it also reminds us that institutional strength isn’t just a matter of physical or organizational readiness. As with Crossroads’ previous economic initiatives, the latest effort is simply a byproduct of their theology of work, as well as an overarching vision of the church’s social responsibility.

Science: Humans naturally excel at creative cooperation

Rev. Ben Johnson

New scientific research finds that the human race has a natural tendency to cooperate—and religion increases philanthropic giving and voluntarism during crises.

“Humans are quite possibly the world’s best cooperators,” according to a summary by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, which sponsored research on the topic.

Finding innovative ways to help others crosses all societies. “Need-based transfers are a universal human trait,” said Athena Aktipis, assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University and co-director of the Human Generosity Project. She and her fellow researchers observed selfless cooperation everywhere from the Maasai tribe of Kenya to ranchers on the southwestern border, from Tanzania to Texas, and from Fiji to Mongolia. They found that generosity produced better results than a transactional relationship for everyone, every time—including for the charitable party.

This deep-seated drive to cooperate takes its cues from the morality embedded within the broader culture. “Reputational concerns shape behavior to be pro-social and altruistic,” said Erez Yoeli, the director of MIT’s Applied Cooperation Team. Hospitality often follows the expectations and norms of our peers. 

People of faith are among society’s most active helpers, said Joseph Bulbulia, the chair of theological and religious studies at the University of Auckland. His team of researchers found “a lot more volunteering and five times the level of charitable giving among highly religious people” than among secular people. Their philanthropy creates “a massive hidden giving economy.”

Others have quantified the economic impact churches have on the U.S. economy. The total dollar value of all 344,000 U.S. religious congregations’ action is somewhere between $1.2 trillion and $4.8 trillion—“more than the annual revenues of the top 10 tech companies, including Apple, Amazon, and Google combined,” according to a 2016 study by Brian and Melissa Grim.

“Churches,” Bulbulia concluded, “will become much more relevant and important in the longer-term rebuilding phase.”

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