Preparing for the coronavirus

Compiled by Ellen Udovich

News outlets and social media have been filled with stories about coronavirus, a respiratory virus that can spread from person to person. What is it and how might it affect your church family and your community?

First, remember that not everything you hear or read may be true. For the most current, accurate information, look to reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  This is a rapidly evolving situation and information will be updated on the CDC website as it becomes available.

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person.

How do people become infected?

The risk of infection is dependent on exposure. Close contacts of people who are infected are at greater risk of exposure, such as health care workers and close contacts of people who are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. CDC continues to closely monitor the situation.

It’s important to note that person-to-person spread can happen on a continuum. Some diseases are highly contagious (like measles), while other diseases are less so. At this time, it’s unclear how easily or sustainably the virus which causes COVID-19 is spreading between people.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Patients with COVID-19 have had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath

What are severe complications from this virus?

Many patients have pneumonia in both lungs.

How can I help protect myself?

The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. There are simple everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses. These include:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.

How can I protect others?

  • If you are sick, to keep from spreading respiratory illness to others, you should 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 object sand surfaces.

Is there a vaccine?

There is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Is there a treatment?

There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19. People with COVID-19 can seek medical care to help relieve symptoms.

How could this affect our church?

As of today, no one knows how great a threat coronavirus will be. The CDC has taken the step of issuing guidelines for businesses, schools and community organizations to alter operations or possibly close if the emergency strikes within the US.

By staying alert and preparing, your church will be better able to minister to those in your church family as well as those in the community. If the coronavirus turns out to be less severe than expected, your church will still have a contingency plan for future potential need.

What can we be doing now to prepare?

  • Be alert and stay informed. Pray for wisdom and eyes to see God’s invitations to ministry.
  • Churches can encourage people to practice normal “flu prevention etiquette” such as frequent hand washing and covering coughs. In addition, consider:
    • Urging people to stay home if they’re not feeling well or if someone in their household isn’t feeling well
    • Asking people not to shake hands or hug when greeting others
  • Develop contingency plans for the possibility of an epidemic. Identify threats to the church and plan ways to mitigate or address those threats. For example:
    • Be prepared for increased absenteeism among Sunday School teachers, leaders and church staff.
    • How will you function if public gatherings such as worship services are temporarily suspended for a few weeks?
      • How will you communicate with your members and the community? How will they communicate with the pastor, staff or deacons?
      • Can worship services be done online or via podcast?
      • Can tithes and offerings be given online?
      • How will decisions be made if routine meetings aren’t held or if key decision-makers are unavailable?
    • What about the more vulnerable members of the church family (the elderly and single parents, and those with special needs and limited finances, etc.) What help might they need and how might the church minister to them?
    • How will you provide pastoral care for those who are quarantined?
  • Encourage the church family to make plans for their own household.
    • If you need to be quarantined on short notice, what items (food, pet items, diapers, etc.) would you need to have on hand for potentially 30 days? Make a list, get what you would need and put those items aside “just in case.”
    • Who are your immediate neighbors? Think of ways you might be able to minister to them (pray for them by name, set aside extra supplies to share, text or call them daily, etc.) Be prepared to share the hope you have in Christ.
  • Look for God’s invitation to ministry. How can the coronavirus provide opportunities for your church to love and serve the community?

None of us knows what the future holds, but we know the One who knows all things! Just as God used Joseph’s calm planning and preparation to meet the physical needs of an entire nation, so too can God use our wise preparation and acts of service to meet the physical and spiritual needs of those around us.

Additional resources:

CDC information including a checklist for faith based organizations

Centers for Disease Control: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

CDC Coronavirus downloadable fact sheet: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/2019-ncov-factsheet.pdf

Lifeway Facts & Trends: https://factsandtrends.net/2020/02/27/is-your-church-ready-for-the-coronavirus/