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A Statement of Care and Compassion Concerning the Coronavirus Outbreak (updated 3/9/20)


March 02, 2020

The emergence of a global health crisis, arising from the emergence last month of a novel coronavirus, now called COVID-19, is causing increased worry in an already anxious world. The Church is called to be in prayer for those affected by the virus, those caring for the affected, including those in the medical and scientific industry trying to diagnose and treat patients, as well as effectively prevent, detect and respond to this virus. COVID-19, like SARS and Bird Flu before it, will come and go. The specific scares will pass; but now is a good time, before this pandemic (or whatever the next pandemic may be) reaches you for churches to do a checkup on their worship practices and gain some important factual data about healthy practices to inform how your community gathers together. Certainly, at this point, the conclusion we come to should not be that being together is dangerous. Additionally, it is too early to conclude that Communion should be suspended. After all, receiving Holy Communion has a much lower risk of spreading infection than shaking hands does. We will await instruction from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding any change in our shared practices. In the meantime, our hopeful conclusion is that God calls us together to be the body of Christ with confidence so that we may taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
 

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Should churches be impacted by Coronavirus (COVID-19) or any other epidemic or pandemic-level illness, the Missouri Conference and its local churches will take direction from the CDC, state health agencies and our local city/county health department.  
 
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) was directing web traffic to the CDC's Coronavirus-related document for community and faith-based leadership. DHSS recommends the same preventative measures for COVID-19 as they do to reduce the spread of the flu – good hand-washing, staying home when you’re sick, etc. You can find a general Coronavirus-related fact sheet here on the DHSS website.
 
For this reason, we do not believe that local churches should alter their worship schedule or practices unless the church community itself has been impacted by an epidemic-level illness (e.g., a chicken pox outbreak in the preschool, mumps outbreak in a college-age ministry group or influenza within a nursing home where the church conducts regular services). However, it is natural that church leaders and members wonder about the risk of participating in worship, including hand-shaking, hugging, passing the offering plate and sharing the bread and cup of Holy Communion. That said, there are a couple of best practices and strategies available to all local churches to help protect the community from the spread of disease and illness.

Worship Practices

  • Work with janitorial staff for regular environmental cleaning with bleach and to keep the restrooms stocked with hand soap.
  • Ask your hospitality volunteers to make sure that there are facial tissues and hand sanitizer stocked and available for worship services.
  • Give people permission to stay at home if they are experiencing illness symptoms (i.e., cough, shortness of breath) of any kind.
  • Consider placing pause on “Passing of the Peace” rituals for the time being. At the very least, invite parishioners who are experiencing symptoms or those who are uncomfortable to refrain from handshaking during the Peace. Consider adopting an alternative way to share the Peace (e.g., fist bumps, elbow bumps, friendly waves and peace signs).
  • Consider setting out baskets or offering plates for people to drop their offerings in rather than pass through the pews. Don't forget to include the regular cleaning of offering plates to your cleaning schedule.

Holy Communion Practices

  • Limit communion servers to those who do NOT appear to have illness symptoms (i.e., cough, shortness of breath).
  • Be sure that Communion chalices, cups, trays, cup fillers, and patens (plates) are washed as thoroughly as any other dishes you might use at home (hot water, dish soap or detergent) before and very soon after each use and stored in a dry, clean cabinet.
  • Prepare fresh elements with clean hands. People who have any communicable illness, including colds, should not prepare or serve communion.
  • Prior to the Eucharistic prayer, have Communion stewards exit the worship space to wash hands with soap and water at the nearest facility.
  • Include the “Sacrament of Purell” as a part of the preparation. Have all servers publicly use alcohol-based hand sanitizer prior to handling the elements. Consider inviting people coming forward for communion to santize their hands prior to receiving. Allow your hands to dry naturally prior to reaching for the elements.
  • Instruct servers not to touch their face after washing their hands and using the sanitizer.
  • If Holy Communion is received by intinction (dipping the bread in the cup), be sure to have only the servers touch the loaf. (The practice of individuals breaking off the bread for themselves greatly increases the risk for contamination).
  • Instruct servers of the bread to provide pieces of bread that are large enough to be dipped into the cup without the recipient's fingers needing to touch the juice.
  • Instruct servers of the cup to tilt the cup slightly toward the recipients to enable the juice to flow toward the bread, thus eliminating a perceived need to "plunge" the bread (and perhaps fingers!) into the cup. For this season, you might ask parents to help dip their children’s bread into the cup.
  • If your congregation is still using individual cups, be sure to have a server who has washed his or her hands give the cup to each recipient, being careful not to touch the hands of the recipient. The server should not touch any used cups, nor should those receiving place used cups back into the trays. The use of disposable cups is not recommended for environmental, health, and aesthetic reasons. These cups may not be recyclable in some communities (despite the claims of vendors to the contrary), are not delivered in sanitary packaging, do not generally stand up well under washing conditions (those labeled "boilable" are nearly as expensive as glass and are not designed to last as long), and, by being disposable, are not designed for a reverent disposition of remaining juice.

Home-bound and Hospital Visitation

  • If you are experiencing illness symptoms (i.e., cough, shortness of breath) of any kind, you should not be visiting the sick and ill.
  • It is strongly recommended that pastors and visitors to hospitals and the home-bound have up-to-date vaccinations including the influenza vaccination. This is to protect the person in the hospital or ill at home as much as the receiver of the vaccination.
  • If you are unvaccinated person or someone who is at high risk for influenza complications, you might consider wearing a mask when visiting hospitals and the home-bound.
  • Pack a travel bag with alcohol-based hand sanitizer to use before and after visits. After leaving someone’s room, move to a handwashing area to wash with soap and water.
  • Consider increasing your telephone contact with those in the hospital and home-bound. For senior citizens at home, who may be watching a lot of news coverage, please consider how they may have increased anxieties and worries over the outbreak. Regular contact via phone may help calm nerves and not make them feel so isolated.
  • If the pandemic increases to affect U.S.-based communities on a much larger scale, consider your plan to provide care and support for those affected in your setting. How will pastoral care be offered? How will relevant and appropriate information be shared about those affected? When communicating with community members, be mindful of healthcare privacy laws (i.e., HIPAA). Visit the CDC for their pandemic influenza preparedness checklist: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/pdf/faithbaseedcommunitychecklist.pdf.

Global or Domestic Mission Trips

  • Advise staff and volunteers before traveling to take certain steps:

    • Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you will travel. Specific travel information for travelers going to and returning from China, and information for aircrew, can be found at on the CDC website.

    • Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.

    • Ensure employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.

    • If outside the United States, sick employees should follow the team’s insurance policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate healthcare provider in that country. A U.S. consular officer can help locate healthcare services. However, U.S. embassies, consulates, and military facilities do not have the legal authority, capability, and resources to evacuate or give medicines, vaccines, or medical care to private U.S. citizens overseas.

Local Church Staff/Volunteers

  • Actively encourage sick staff and volunteers to stay home and send employees who appear to have illness symptoms (i.e., cough, shortness of breath) home.

  • Emphasize staying home when sick, continue to educate and remind staff and volunteers about respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all:

    • Place posters that encourage staying home when sickcough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.

    • Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by staff and volunteers.

    • Instruct staff and volunteers to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.

    • Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.

    • Visit the coughing and sneezing etiquette and clean hands webpage for more information.

  • Perform routine environmental cleaning:

    • Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.

    • No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.

    • Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use. 

Additional Thoughts for Church Leaders

(Some material adapted from Office of General Minister and President of the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ)

  • Be mindful of prejudices that can surface during moments of fear: Let us be mindful of the racial and potentially racist overtones and attitudes that can be present in public accounts of the Coronavirus. As the Coronavirus expands across multiples countries and parts of the world, we know that communities are in need of our solidarity and support in these times of being Let our faithful response be centered in compassion and care rather than fear, isolation, or division.

  • Educate and calm fears: Faith leaders can help educate and calm fears, providing information about risk assessment and best prevention practices. This can happen in worship, newsletters, public bulletin boards, and educational settings. Seek the wisdom of parish nurses and medical professionals within your congregation and community as their professional training provides an informed understanding that can be shared.

  • Create spaces for prayer: Use pastoral prayers, prayer meetings and other opportunities to encourage prayer for those suffering, those responding, and those seeking to mitigate the harm caused by the virus.

Crisis Planning and Health Information

 Church Rituals and Public Safety

Prejudice and the Coronavirus