How to Safely Open Churches?

I wrote up a brief statement to send to our home church, let me know what you think:

Since the main way of virus transmission is through respiratory droplets which then get into someone else’s nose, mouth, eyes(?) there are only two main ways people could even get infected. The first is by touching common surfaces and then touching your eyes, mouth, nose and the second is through sufficient exposure in close contact. I was sent me a great blog post outlining potential scenarios of transmission (https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them?fbclid=IwAR1JhGst-4_Gr2pgID1u9XSjNqZee34OkiSDmW7g-c8UkBRtzreIPR5Ujvs).

Common Surfaces

These are mostly obvious like:

  • Self serve Coffee, water, tea
  • Water fountain
  • Collection Basket
  • iPads for giving (unless you have a dedicated person that wipes them down after each use)
  • Bathroom door handles/stall handles/urinal flushers
  • Many people wash their hands and then turn the faucet off with their hands afterwards which defeats the purpose (maybe including a sign or infographic about proper hand washing or have someone dedicated to wiping down any common surfaces)
  • Entrance and exit doors
  • Wiping down seats that families sit in – their hands are all over the seats & let’s say someone coughs or sneezes, then their droplets are all over the seats and someone else sits there in a second service

Stopping people congregating

  • There are some hot spots where people tend to congregate unintentionally (different from intentional congregation) which includes the two small doors from the main lobby area that leads to side wings where the bathrooms and exits are
  • Maybe we can have arrows on the ground directing the flow of people? This could be the case for the sanctuary too
  • Probably have one exit and entrance to the building
  • Probably no worship up front or after service prayer unless…
  • We mark off spots for worship and it’s first come first serve
  • We make a prayer line along the edge of the sanctuary marking out spacing of 6 feet and have a few prayer teams (if there needs to be two people then do people who live in the same household only)
  • Close the sanctuary promptly after service (in the name of “cleaning” for the next service)
  • And then encourage people to exit the building – it’s better if they congregate outside anyways if they really need to just say hello
  • Kids could be a nightmare in terms of regular contact, it might be a while before we have children’s ministry

Seating

  • The general rule of thumb is obviously six feet from other people but there are ways to send respiratory droplets further than this
  • For example here’s some evidence of sneezes traveling up to (27 ft- https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2763852)
  • Loud worship where your mouth is angled at about 30 to 45 degrees allows your droplets to travel further – think about throwing a projectile (the ideal angles are somewhere around the angles that we worship at)
  • The longer this worship is sustained the more droplets you are sending down towards the front or they are sending towards you
  • This may require staggering seating and going 3-4 rows instead of just going for 6 feet

Potentially Closing again

It’s unclear what will happen in the future as approximately only about 2-4% of the population seems to have been infected so far (outside of hotspots like NYC - https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/from-our-experts/early-herd-immunity-against-covid-19-a-dangerous-misconception). This means 95%+ of the population is susceptible and many epidemiologists expect cases to start rising again (likely in June). Things will likely look very good, especially as there’s some evidence that Virginia is padding their numbers putting antibody tests into viral tests to make our numbers look better (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/05/covid-19-tests-combine-virginia/611620/?fbclid=IwAR0ZuD-n4fAU_zWDideI_07kcZx4CYroGOgtND7Ccz0fF69u9p_A3JJaxPQ). It is unlikely that we will just continue forward with cases decreasing and while we can plan for just going forward into stage 2 and stage 3, we should have contingency plans for potentially closing again. We could easily see people coming to VA Beach for tourism and causing a massive outbreak on the oceanfront.

What about faith filled, but at-risk congregants?

What I mean is many congregants will be full of faith that Jesus will protect them, but if someone falls in the at-risk category, I personally would at least still advise precautions to them. This could also apply if you live with someone in these categories, it could be best to deny ourselves for the sake of loving our neighbors. The most recent at-risk list is (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/groups-at-higher-risk.html):

  • Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
  • Chronic kidney disease being treated with dialysis
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Diabetes
  • Hemoglobin disorders
  • Immunocompromised
  • Liver disease
  • People aged 65 years and older
  • People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
  • Serious heart conditions
  • Severe obesity

I think many people would just come anyways believing they will be okay or that Jesus will protect them so that’s up to you how you want to proceed.

There probably should be some statement about anyone being symptomatic though many people seem to spread the disease without knowing. Also, people are notoriously bad at remembering or paying attention to symptoms. A general list of symptoms is (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html):

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

Here’s the one now infamous choir practice where one person forgot they were symptomatic and they left dozens infected with three Christians hospitalized and two dead from a single meeting: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6919e6.htm

What about face masks?

They are uncomfortable, but appear to offer some protection (not really for you, especially if you keep adjusting them with your hands) but for other people as it catches many of your respiratory droplets. Sneezes still should go into elbows though as most people only have loose fitting cloth masks and the droplets can shoot out the sides.

The In Jesus Name Argument

I’m all for declaring certain things in Jesus’ name, but it’s unclear how this thing will end. It seems to be following natural laws right now. Some things on a timeline:

  • Early March Shawn Bolz prophesies a sudden end to this virus
  • March 5th Cindy Jacobs declared the coronavirus illegal in Jesus’ name and that it should cease worldwide
  • March 13th Kenneth Copeland shares the Lord spoke to him that this will be over much sooner than you think
  • March 19th Lou Engle goes on the offensive against the coronavirus to heal the land/plague in a worldwide fast/prayer
  • Before Easter – Chuck Pierce, Kenneth Copeland (again), Jeremiah Johnson cite Passover as a significant turning point in COVID-19 (it will be over) and Pat Robertson declares no new cases after Easter. There was lots of chatter in prophetic circles because there were plagues in Africa and other things that sounded like the plagues of Egypt and thus Passover was supposed to be the time of deliverance
  • Now our housemate told us that people are predicting the end of COVID-19 by Pentecost

So what can we expect the Lord to do in all of this? Take it day by day like James 4:13-17 perhaps? I trust that he will guide you in all of this and look forward to the future of our church in these times!

What are your thoughts?

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Apart from some of the grossly mistaken ideas about how the virus can be transmitted there is no real debate. It is clear that no one believes that God will get involved or protect the congregation so normal Social distancing and precautions apply. No personal contact unless with a resident family member. Sit at least 2m apart. (which won’t affect the way most people sit in church anyway). Hot coffee or tea will not transmit the virus, besides people do not share cups. As long as it is poured out and left to be picked up there should be no danger. If the collection plates are left for 2 hours there should be no transmission. It may be plausible to hand out communion to the pews as long as there is minimal contact, but that is a distinct place of risk, albeit dependant on the server being infected.
So as long as the church is not full to capacity there should be no real issues.

However,

Current advice and rules do not incorporate places of worship as being able to open (UK at least and I suspect also in the USA). It seems that remote phone in and internet worship is working so why rush to change it? If you are not going to trust in God’s protection then there is no need to try and reopen churches.

Richard

Like what? We have a self serve coffee and tea area that I was referring to. You could in principle have a dedicated pourer with gloves/mask but we don’t have a great setup for that.

Here in Virginia they can open at 50% capacity. For some churches that’s still a thousand people…

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Self service would be even better. You touch what you use. Even if someone has to get the cups out of storage you would not touch the lip where the mouth touches. How on earth do you think you are going to transmit anything?

There has been a lot of hype and misinformation about how this virus spreads. Most viruses cannot survive on a surface for more than 2 hours. High or freezing temperatures nullifies, if not kills it. It does not pass through the skin unless there is broken or damaged skin, so unless you have it on your fingers and put them in your mouth you cannot catch it. Good hygene and sanitising keeps it at bay.

Richard

People touch the stack of cups and they touch the machine to get the coffee out. That’s a no go. People touch common surfaces then touch their faces all the time.

We’re not that Pentecostal. Church isn’t that long and we don’t have church in an oven or a freezer.

People touch their face dozens of times per hour without realizing it.

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The first link in the OP is a good article looking at case studies of spread and talking about viral load. I think you are right that people are paranoid about the wrong things. But probably not paranoid enough about some other things. People are less likely than they think to get the virus from surfaces, but probably more likely than they think to get the virus from sharing air with infected people. And if you are with people for an extended period of time and there is airflow, it might not be enough to just stay six feet away if people aren’t wearing masks, based on the latest stuff coming out about how long the virus can circulate in the air.

Good stuff, thanks for putting together and I will,share with our pastor. We have tentatively scheduled a phase 1 the next 4 weeks where we are encouraged to meet in small,groups in homes with proper distancing for worship on Sunday morning, followed by a phase 2 for 2 weeks where we we meet for worship service all together with precautions similar to what you have outlined, followed by phase 3 where we will resume all Sunday school children’s programs, and other programs of the church for those comfortable with attending, with all dates tentative depending on disease activity.

This will be a tough one for us because most people come in the same narrow door which leads to a narrow hallway. Makes it easier for the greeter to catch everyone, but not so great if people are keeping their distance. We may need to open up some of the lesser-used doors and assign entrances and exits, and maybe advise people to take their time exiting so there aren’t bottlenecks.

I agree about children’s ministries – little kids don’t know how to social distance, so I’m not sure how that will work – I’m curious what public schools and day cares plan to do for the fall.

The Gospel Coalition even put out an article about some of the research on singing in church, which may be useful, especially for those who are already in that camp: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/congregational-singing-dangerous/

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Wow that’s a really good article, thanks for sharing.

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At my church we are remaining mostly the same as things open up. Those who are up to 40 and their spouses meet at church at 10am. Those 40+ meet at church at 8am. As you enter you are seated by row with family or those your brought. We are a small congregation so the up to 40 group is just around 40 people including kids. We have 15 rows of seats and that’s 3 separate sections. So we
Can easily do a family per row and stagger than. The other two services during the week are small home based groups of up to 10 people roughly. Each time the elder is different. We have four pastors so they change up so everyone goes through every elder a month.

We don’t do served meals, have coffee or tea or anything like that. At the end of service, everyone can file into a line to give money by dropping it in a box and remaining 6 feet apart.

As close knit church though me and others still meet up and do bible studies with each other and the lost when they are brought along and want to study out the Bible and see if they want to be baptized into Christ.

Way less risk picking it up here than at Walmart or probably even fast food. Less physical contact and the elders open the doors. Hymn lyrics are placed off a screen.

Masks have no value unless they are virus proof. The value of plain face masks has no medical proof. The virus can only get into the air if an infected person expels it. The only value of a mask therefore would be to prevent spittle. It still would not stop the virus if it is exhaled. Built into the guide lines is the incubation period. You may as well ban any sort of congregating for the next 6 months at least if you are going to worry about this.

From what I have seen in the UK, churches are preferring to stick to internet / phone meetings and keeping the buildings shut.

Richard

As long as hygene and sanitising is maintained the virus cannot remain on fingers to be transmitted. Place a sanitiser by the machine. If everyone uses it there will be no problems.

Richard

No value for preventing the wearer from becoming infected. Proven value for preventing transmission via droplets if the wearer is infected. The virus is exhaled in droplets, not by itself.

Au contraire, mon frere.


https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/resp.13834

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@pevaquark this is awesome! I personally have learned a ton from reading this and it certainly looks as though you have nearly all the bases as far as I can see.

With my ‘family ministry hat’ on, I’d perhaps encourage you to expand a bit some of the problems involved in children’s ministry. If anything this would help your leaders to better explain to families w/ young children why this ministry Can’t restart.

Also have you/they considered alternative provision for parents w/ babies and toddlers if the crèche (daycare in the US?) provision has to be stopped during services? Will they remain in the service? Will mums be able to breastfeed in their seats during the service or would their be a designated area? If the later, where, and how would this be done in a socially distanced way? What if a baby(ies) start to cry during the service? Would the congregation/service leader/preacher talk over the noise or would mum/dad want to take them out until they calm down? If the later, where/how?

Dunno if any of that helps or is relevant, but thought I’d chuck it in the pot nonetheless. :upside_down_face:

All in all I’d be over the moon if one of my congregants sent this to the eldership! In fact, how would you feel about me passing this on to the other elders I serve with? Goes with out saying that I would give you proper credit.

That’s a good point, I’d need to do refind some things that could be helpful.

Those are all great questions. My wife would probably just feed our baby right there but I didn’t think about a lot of things.

Feel free to use/modify in any way helpful

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Good case study of transmission here:
https://coronavirus.medium.com/how-one-traveler-set-off-a-coronavirus-outbreak-in-germany-fdae28118897

The Lancet paper details some interesting cases for how the virus was passed from person to person. The first person to test positive (also on January 27) was someone who attended a one-hour meeting with patient zero and two other colleagues in a small room. The person (called patient 1 in the study) sat next to patient zero during the meeting, and the two other colleagues sat across from them. Only patient 1 tested positive.

The second person to test positive wasn’t aware of any direct contact with patient zero, though the researchers say that based on viral analysis, they likely did get the virus directly from patient zero. The third person to get the virus did not have any direct contact with patient zero, but they had contact with patient 1, including sharing a computer with them for a short period of time.

In another case, one person — called patient 4 — who had contact with patient zero appears to have passed the virus to patient 5 in a very short time period. In a canteen, patient 4 and patient 5 sat back to back. Patient 5 turned to patient 4 and asked to borrow the salt shaker from the table. This was still two days before patient 4 started showing symptoms.

Patient 5 lives in a household with five other people. Three people in the house ended up testing positive.

Ultimately, everyone who got the virus in this outbreak fully recovered. Though the researchers note that all the people were relatively young (the median age for the group was 35) and generally healthy. The researchers underscore the fact that the virus was able to spread before the onset of symptoms, on the day of symptom onset, and among people with very mild symptoms.

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That has yet to be proved. The rapid expansion of this virus has defied all explanations.

Richard

To me, planning an indoor meeting that includes singing is (to be blunt) insane, and will be for probably the next year or more.

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There is strong evidence that viruses, including respiratory viruses, can be and are transmitted through contaminated surfaces; for example, see this review: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1828811/.

Some viruses can survive on surfaces much longer than two hours. For respiratory viruses, survival time is usually a few hours to a few days (some enteric viruses can remain infectious for months). Freezing does not ‘nullify’ viruses – it preserves them. Keep them cold enough and they can remain infectious indefinitely. (I believe the current record is a giant virus that remained infectious after being frozen for 30,000 years, but giant viruses are a different sort of beast than ordinary viruses.)

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Thanks. I shared it too with my elder friend. It is very helpful.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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