Now that medical authorities can document that people have been made ill by the coronavirus (COVID19) in the city of Lake Oswego, we know there is a greater possibility that our diocese will see this illness reach our congregations. The following information comes from experts who spoke during a webinar organized by Episcopal Relief & Development for diocesan disaster preparedness coordinators.
The cases in Lake Oswego are community-sourced, which means that the virus is and has been circulating throughout the community, likely for many weeks. This is similar to Kirkland, Washington where a number of residents of a care facility have fallen ill, and some have died. The virus affects older age groups more severely than children and younger people. It is a danger to anyone with compromised immunity, including those with diabetes, heart problems, kidney and liver disease.
Where will the coronavirus go next?
A likely route of transmission would be the I-5 corridor, with the virus transmitted by already infected but asymptomatic people stopping for coffee, meals, gas, sneezing/coughing near others, and touching common surfaces with unwashed hands. The same path of transmission might occur along the OR101 corridor. Anywhere people go, the virus will spread.
What to do?
Now is a good time to ask questions, select policies and practices that could very much help us through as this new disease runs its course. Adopting the following procedures and policies now as a kind of emergency drill to prepare for this disaster may help church members understand this is a temporary change, and will help keep safe those who don’t have the ability to fight off such a novel virus.
Guidelines and considerations for churches
Church clergy and leaders should discuss the following questions:
- What if we need to cancel services for a few weeks?
- Can we provide alternative/virtual means of worship?
- Is working remotely possible for office staff? Could we take a half day to practice working remotely to try it out?
- How will we maintain plate income if services are cancelled or attendance drops significantly?
- Should we encourage taking communion from the common cup or abstaining from the wine and discourage intinction?
Junior Wardens should find ways to:
- Have bottles of hand sanitizer available in each pew, or be sure a centrally located main dispenser works and is used
- Position wastebaskets in bathrooms so that a paper towel can be used to open the door on the way out and then be dropped into the wastebasket
- Sanitize altar rails, pew tops and backs, hand rails, elevator/lift controls, and door handles frequently
Congregations should be ready to support:
- Workers who do not have paid sick leave and may be worried about money
- Families who may be in need of child care and lunches/breakfasts for their children if schools close
- Parishioners who become ill and may need meals, shopping assistance, or transportation
Practices for Altar Servers at Eucharist
- Learn and use sanitary protocols including frequent hand washing and refraining from touching their faces
- Present the chalice at face height to discourage communion by intinction
- Discuss and implement a plan for performing communion by intinction if communicants insist on this method
- Encourage parishioners to stock up on prescription medications as their insurance will allow, since many pharmaceuticals are manufactured in China and the supply chain will likely be disrupted
- Keep in contact with people using the phone, internet, and handwritten notes. Don’t let this situation cause you to withdraw into fear or isolation.