A Word from Bishop Bryan: COVID-19 update - prepare, don’t panic
Dear South Georgia clergy, laity, and friends,
The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is spreading, and we each have a responsibility to be prepared. While we should not panic, now is the time for churches and congregations to review or create preparedness plans.
Churches, please clean and sanitize highly-touched surfaces throughout the day, including children and adult classrooms, handles, water fountains, and railings. Offer hand sanitizer and tissues in highly visible areas. Consider changing your methods for serving communion, passing of the peace, and passing offering plates.
Swap hugs and handshakes for a friendly wave and smile! And please stay at home when you aren’t feeling well.
Follow the directions of local government officials regarding community gatherings (including church services).
As people and places of faith, it is our responsibility to care for one another, to share God’s love and grace, and to do no harm. Pray for those who are suffering from this - and all - illness and for those who are anxious, providing care, or working around the clock to minimize the impact of this virus.
Below are several helpful links, including resources from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the Georgia Department of Public Health. Remember that good hygiene practices such as hand washing are your best defense against germs.
Taking proactive steps and being prepared make it possible for us to stay calm and encourage others to follow our example. I hope that each local church will embrace this opportunity to be alive together in community service by publicizing the steps you are taking.
Alive Together in Witness,
Bishop R. Lawson Bryan
Stay informed and follow advice given by your healthcare provider. Stay up-to-date on coronavirus by checking reliable sources, such as the WHO, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, and Global Health Tracker as well as the Georgia Department of Public Health. Visit the DPH website to learn more about precautions you can take to protect yourself and your community. UMCOR has also provided tips for preparation and response within faith communities
- CDC: Get Your Community & Faith-Based Organizations Ready for Coronavirus Disease
- CDC: Stop the Spread of Germs Download
- PowerPoint presentation from the Georgia Department of Public Health about coronavirus
PrepareWe have a responsibility to be prepared. Consider creating a preparedness plan for your local congregation or ministry. Here is an example of a church preparedness plan created by FUMC Port St Joe in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. Here is a helpful church guidelines checklist created by the Desert Southwest Annual Conference.
Additionally, below are ways you can encourage individuals to be prepared as well as your local congregation.**
Individuals: Best Practices for Coronavirus and Other Infectious Diseases
- Wash your hands often.
- Avoid close contact with others.
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
- Stay home if you’re sick.
- Wear a facemask if you’re sick.
- Clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces daily.
- To the extent possible, avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places – elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, handshaking with people, etc. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something in a public place.
- Place bottles of hand sanitizer (60% or greater alcohol content) in prominent locations throughout the facilities. Washing hands for 20 seconds is the best practice yet providing hand sanitizer is an alternative. Encourage individuals to use hand sanitizer often.
- Provide permission for individuals to stay home from worship or other ministry events if they are running fever, coughing, or having respiratory issues.
- In the near future, livestream events and video conferencing could substitute for other in-person gatherings while concerns about coronavirus exposure continues.
- Consider alternatives to the passing of the peace. Encourage a fist bump, elbow tag, or just speaking to one another with no touch at all.
- Consider alternatives to serving communion. Instead of the communion cup, use the small communion cups. Have the individual serving the bread place the torn piece of bread in the hands of the individuals or use pre-cut cubes or wafers.
- Increase diligence when cleaning the facilities. Use Lysol or Clorox surface spray on all hard surfaces, including door handles. Don’t forget to spray the sanctuary!
- If you currently hold a fellowship time before or after your service, consider alternative ways in displaying and the sharing of goodies and drinks.
- Create a bulletin insert encouraging best health practices. Inform individuals about social distancing, which is 6 feet between one another. List best preventive practices for both home and church.
- Have greeters open the doors for all who enter your facility.
- Place bulletins on tables outside of the sanctuary instead of handing them out.
- Place offering plates on stands within the sanctuary for worshipers to drop their offering in.
- Be aware of friends and family who are traveling overseas into and returning from high-risk areas: China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, Japan, Hong Kong, and London. Be aware of individuals who have traveled to the other 38 states within the United States. Encourage individuals upon their return home to stay home and monitor their health for the next 14 days.
- Public health emergencies, such as the COVID-19, causes stress for individuals and communities. Fear and anxiety about a disease can lead to social stigma toward people, places, or things. Please be sensitive to all individuals and know that not everyone in certain populations or from certain regions are infected.
When it comes to communicating, three things are important: stay educated, exercise common sense, and share what's relevant to your people and location. Make sure staff and volunteers have the most recent information and are on the same page with who’s doing what (i.e., setting up hand sanitizer stations, wipe-down crew, etc.). Think through all your environment spaces and touchpoints (i.e., children, greeters, servers, etc.). Reiterate your support to stay home if anyone doesn't feel well or has underlying health conditions that put them at increased risk. Figure out what operations are essential and what can be paused if you're not fully staffed.
Make sure people know where to find answers to their questions and where to go when there are updates. Don't overprescribe detailed health protocol (unless you're the CDC or a healthcare facility) or call an emergency meeting. Instead, be prepared to responsibly address three questions:
- How are you keeping people safe in your public spaces?
- What can employees or volunteers do to help?
- What are you prepared to do if there is an outbreak in your area?
- We are not canceling events or services at this time. However, this is an evolving situation. We will remain flexible and address things as they occur.
- We are prepared to cancel services and events if it helps contribute to community health and safety.
- We are prepared with online service options if we are unable to host services.
- Because we value the safety and health of each of our members and guests, we have made the decision to cancel services and other church gatherings and meetings until such a time as we feel it safe to gather again. (Provide a link to a livestream option or archived sermons; send a devotional thought; offer daily prayers; remind members about online giving.)
- As developments arise, we’ll make necessary adjustments and share updates with you on our website and Facebook page.