This article includes material from the CDC, Episcopal Relief & Development, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Walla Walla, Washington, and the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.Gary Allman Six-minute read. Resources
We are all following the news of increasing concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. While we don’t want to over-react, we also do not want to underestimate the potential of this situation. Below we’ve reproduced and summarized the best of the resources we’ve found for you. To make things easier we’ll start with some essentials, and then provide more detail and links to resources.
Update March 16, 2020
All in-person gatherings — Worship and meetings — in The Diocese of West Missouri are canceled as of March 18, 2020. You can read about this here.
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Some simple things we can all do to help our communities.
- Wash your hands often and thoroughly. Thoroughly means with soap and hot water for a minimum of 20 seconds.
- If you can’t wash your hands, regular use of a minimum 60% alcohol gel sanitizer is recommended.
- Do not touch your face – mouth, nose, or eyes, to minimize the possibility of infecting yourself.
- If you become ill or suspect you may have been in close contact with someone who has fallen ill, self-quarantine.
- Keep your distance. COVID-19 is spread primarily via aerosol (coughing, sneezing, and close proximity).
- Face masks are not recommended for the general populace, they are only recommended for people who are, or think they may be, infected. Masks help prevent the airborne spread of the infection from the potential source.
- Current indications are that COVID-19 is spread to a lesser extent via contact with contaminated objects. Where possible clean shared common surfaces after use. The altar rail for example.
At Our Services
This is a tough one for Episcopalians, but shaking hands, hugging and close contact should be avoided.
Update March 12. Clergy have been asked to temporarily set up a separate station for sharing the communion wine, and if possible to distribute the wine in eco-friendly individual cups. No Intinction.
- Contrary to popular belief, intinction is more likely to spread an infection than sharing the common cup.
- It is generally recommended that intinction be discouraged, or that the intinction should be performed by the Eucharistic Minister, preferably without the communicant handling the host.
- Communicants should be reminded that the sacrament is complete when administered in just one kind, either consecrated bread or wine. Another reason not to intinct.
Update March 12. Clergy have been asked to temporarily empty all baptismal fonts, stoups, or bénitiers.
If you have a holy water font, stoup, or bénitier, please consider regular thorough cleaning, and place gel alcohol-based sanitizer at the station. Churches might want to take a lead from our Roman Catholic colleagues and provide small individual vials of Holy Water to reduce the risk of transmission of infection.
New, March 12. The passing of the plate is to be discontinued for the moment, the plate should be placed on a table where the congregation may place their offerings. Churches should also look at options for online giving.
Home Eucharistic Visits
New, March 12. Visits by lay Eucharistic Visitors to be temporarily suspended.
We currently have no plans to suspend services in West Missouri. However, should federal or state authorities close schools and public spaces in your area, it is recommended that you temporarily suspend your church services as well. Individual churches may choose to suspend services based on their own level of comfort and their local situation. Use online facilities such as Facebook Live to share communal worship. Please be mindful that unless you have the necessary licenses you should not broadcast church music online.
Eucharistic ministers should be reminded of the correct use and application of the purificator, and correctly rotating the chalice. Also consider having more purifactors on hand to facilitate thorough cleaning.
What We Know
- The elderly and immunosuppressed are most at risk.
- Unlike ‘flu COVID-19 does not present a severe risk to children.
- COVID-19 is highly transmissible. More so than flu, but less so than measles.
- Current estimates suggest that each person contracting COVID-19 will infect another 2-4 people. (the historical figure for flu is around 1.5 people).
A Faith-Based Response to Epidemics – Episcopal Relief & Development
An epidemic is a large-scale outbreak of an infectious disease, such as influenza or coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Our role in responding, as churches, dioceses and compassionate Christians, is to:
- Combat fear with knowledge in order to encourage preparedness and decrease stigma.
- Maintain operational continuity and continue worship life in the case of potential quarantine and disruption.
- Show God’s compassion and care to those in our communities who are affected.
These are general guidelines; decisions should be made in collaboration with Church leadership and health authorities, based on local practices and safety concerns.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China. In recent weeks, the virus has spread from China to other countries.
- Symptoms of the disease are fever, cough, shortness of breath. If you are experiencing these symptoms, call your doctor immediately. Symptoms may appear between two to 14 days after exposure to the disease. It is spreading rapidly with cases developing in many countries around the world.
- The disease is new so there is no vaccine at this time. Health professionals are still learning all of the ways that the disease is transmitted and who is most susceptible.
- There is little information about how the disease impacts pregnant women or the child in their womb.
- It is best to take precautions, especially if you have a weaker immune system, a history of respiratory issues or are over 70 years old. If identified early, the survival rate for this virus is high.
Individual Prevention – The disease is spread through respiratory drops.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough.
- Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, handling diapers, preparing food or using the bathroom.
- Stay home if you are feeling ill.
Printed Resources for Church Bulletins and Bulletin Boards
- COVID-19/Coronavirus: Awareness and Response
- What you need to know about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- Lo que necesita saber sobre la enfermedad del coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19)
- Stop the spread of germs
- Detenga la propagacion de los microbios
Prepared Social Media Messaging From The CDC for Diocesan and Church Accounts
- Remind congregants not to come to church or meetings if they feel ill
- Encourage clergy to wash hands with soap and water before services and use hand sanitizer before distributing communion; also provide hand sanitizer for congregational use
- If desired by the congregation, adapt rituals to minimize personal contact
- Communion: those who are ill should stay home; those who are concerned may abstain from communion or receive “in one kind” (host only); use of the common cup with proper purificator procedure presents relatively low risk; intinction should be avoided
- Sharing of the Peace: waving is perfectly acceptable in place of shaking hands or hugging
There’s a lot being said on the subject, we particularly liked these key quotes provided in an email to his church by the Rev. David Sibley, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Walla Walla, Washington.
- Letter to the Editor from CDC Scientists, “Risk of Infectious Disease Transmission from a Common Communion Cup”
American Journal of Infection Control (Vol. 26, pgs. 538-539).
- Key quotes: “no documented transmission of any infectious disease has ever been traced to the use of a common communion cup” and “the risk for infectious disease transmission by a common communion cup is very low”
- Peer-Reviewed Article, “The hazard of infection from the shared communion cup” Journal of Infection (1988) (Vol 16, pgs. 3-23).
- Key quote: “No episode of disease attributable to the shared communion cup has ever been reported. Currently available data do not provide any support for suggesting that the practice of sharing a common communion cup should be abandoned because it might spread infection.”
The Rt. Rev. Gregory Rickel Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia has an excellent video statement on this topic.
Preventing Infection – CDC
There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
- CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
- Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
For information about handwashing, see CDC’s Handwashing website.
For information specific to healthcare, see CDC’s Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings.
Update: March 16. In-person worship and meetings canceled across the diocese from 03-18-2020 until further notice.
Update: March 12, 2020. Following a letter sent by email to the diocesan clergy by Bishop Marty, we have updated the text as follows:
- Holy Eucharist. changes to the sharing of the common cup.
- Holy Water. Baptismal fonts etc. to be drained.
- New notes added on the Offering plate
- New note added on Lay Eucharistic Visitors.
Update: March 5, 2020. Notes on Holy Water, suspension of services, and the correct use of the purificator added.