Responding to COVID-19
(posted March 4, 2020)
The first case of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the United States was announced January 21. The first case in Missouri was reported March 7. Each day brings reports of new cases and additional concern about this fast-spreading respiratory disease. People in the Churches of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri are among those concerned.
We want our members and the public to know that the Diocese of Missouri is responding to the concerns with information, action, and prayers.
First and foremost: Please don’t panic!
The symptoms of the coronavirus are similar to the common cold or influenza. As a matter of fact, 20% of all colds come from a coronavirus. Dr. John Clements, retired Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Tulane University School of Medicine, says this new virus is like a cold that has gone on to the next step, and in most cases will be treated in the same way we treat a cold or the flu. “Don’t overreact,” Dr. Clements urged us in a webinar hosted by Episcopal Relief and Development on March 2.
Dr. Cathy Stemp with the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health says that 75-85% of those getting this disease will experience mild to moderate symptoms. The 25% who experience more severe symptoms are likely to be the elderly and those who already have chronic health conditions. Dr. Stemp says if we understand the basics, then we can help mitigate the spread of the disease in our community. “Churches are a phenomenal venue to get good information out,” says Dr. Stemp.
Spreading good information
The Diocese of Missouri encourages the leaders and members of our parishes to learn the facts and stay up to date on the developments of this disease.
Your best source of information comes from our public health agencies:
- World Health Organization:
Updates on the Coronavirus Disease
- Centers for Disease Control:
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- Episcopal Relief & Development:
Faith-Based Response to Epidemics
- Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services:
- (Plus your county and city health departments.)
Please be aware that a lot of misinformation is also being spread, especially on social media. We encourage you to check the veracity of any “news” you see before repeating it or purchasing any products that promise protection.
Here are links to specific communications you might want to use in your parish:
- Coronavirus - bulletin insert
- What you need to know about the coronavirus (CDC)
- How to wash your hands (CDC)
- The Common Cup and Communicable Diseases from the Diocese of Georgia
- Liturgical Practices from the Diocese of Maryland
Preventing or slowing the spread of COVID-19
The best practices for containing the spread of COVID-19 are the same practices you would follow for treating a cold or the flu:
- Wash your hands often with soap. Wash for at least 20 seconds, making sure to get between your fingers and beyond your wrist.
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Use a tissue or the inside of your elbow, not your hands.
- Avoid touching your face with your hands.
- If you are not feeling well, STAY HOME! Do not go to church or go anywhere else if you are sick!
- If someone in your house is sick, STAY HOME! Your exposure to illness can put others at risk.
- Use anti-bacterial hand sanitizer regularly (gels are best).
Is it safe to take communion?
This is probably everyone’s biggest question when it comes to Church and the spread of any illness.
Medical experts agree that the danger of transmitting communicable diseases by sharing a chalice is negligible. Intincting (dipping the bread partway into the cup) is NOT a better option -- far more germs fall into the cup by dipping the bread in the wine than by sipping. If a person insists on intincting, we recommend having one person designated to dip the bread and pass it directly to the communicant. A refresher course for all ministers of communion is also in order.
Those serving at the altar should also use best practices when offering the common cup: wipe both the inside and the outside of the cup with the purificator after each use and turn the cup a quarter-turn for the next communicant.
It is not sacramentally necessary to receive both the bread and the wine at communion. If you feel uneasy about using the chalice in any form, it is perfectly acceptable to only take the bread at communion. Just cross your arms over your chest when you are offered the cup.
Beyond communion, here are some other recommended ideas for keeping your Church safe:
- Wash your hands before the service begins.
- Everyone serving at the altar should use hand sanitizer before administering communion.
- Keep hand sanitizer available for people attending church, perhaps at the end of every pew.
- Encourage new methods of passing the Peace -- wave to your neighbor, show the peace sign, bump elbows, make eye contact, slightly bow your head. We don’t have to shake hands or hug to exchange the Peace!
- Keep Church bathrooms and kitchens clean and disinfected.
- Keep a trash can close to bathroom doors, so people can use a paper towel to open the door and then easily toss it in the trash as they leave.
- Although children don’t appear to be at high risk for this virus, it’s a good idea to remove “soft” toys from your nursery and Sunday school rooms - no stuffed animals or dolls.
Be the Church
Any time we experience an outbreak of disease, a natural disaster or tragedy of any kind, our Church community is usually at its best. We are called to love and care for our neighbors as ourselves. Now is a good time for church leaders to prepare an action plan for serving our congregations and our community.
- Set up a pastoral care plan to regularly check up on elderly members and those dealing with chronic illnesses of any kind (diabetes, heart disease, respiratory illnesses, etc.).
- Encourage members who depend on medications to have a one-month back-up supply.
- Have a plan to help care for anyone in quarantine.
- Have a plan for sending out emergency communications.
- Stay in touch with local health departments to know the status of the disease and any recommended actions.
- If you have to close your church or have a lot of members unable to attend, consider alternative ways to worship, like livestreaming your service or home visits.
- Be mindful of people who don’t have health care or are unable to care for themselves.
- Be mindful of health care providers, who may be working long hours and experiencing a lot of anxiety from their exposure to illness.
- Use common sense in dealing with problems to reduce anxiety in others.
- Pray for all those suffering from this virus and for those caring for the sick.
The Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith,
10th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri