There is much attention being given in the media to the coronavirus outbreak worldwide, and what the effect will be within the United States. As I write this on March 2, the first two likely cases of COVID-19 in Florida have been identified in the Tampa Bay area, in Hillsborough and Manatee Counties. The later case is troubling, as the individual has no apparent travel connections to any area of the world that has been experiencing an outbreak.
Every congregation in CFP should have a plan for dealing with a possible outbreak of an infectious disease, just as every individual and family should have plans. In many ways these plans will be similar to a response to an outbreak of the flu or the approach of a tropical storm or hurricane. For individuals and families this includes having supplies of water, food, and other necessities should it be necessary to self-quarantine at home. For congregations, this includes plans for caring for members and outreach to the community, as well as plans for continuing worship, governance and ministry should the congregation have to limit face-to-face gatherings.
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has a document which provides guidance for congregations during an outbreak of an infectious disease. This document is reproduced in my Stated Clerk’s Report to the Presbytery meeting on March 7 at the Oakland Presbyterian Church. It also can be downloaded here. The document is three pages long.
Many of the suggestions in this document involve common sense that should be revisited each flu season. Cover your coughs. Wash your hands often and use hand sanitizer. Avoid unnecessary physical contact (handshakes, hugs, etc.) Some things congregations may wish to consider include:
Turning off drinking fountains and posting “Do Not Use” signs
Ask ill members to stay home
Encourage people to sit a further distance apart, maybe in alternate rows
Make sure you have plenty of tissues and hand sanitizer available in the sanctuary area, and train your ushers how to respond to needs within the congregation.
Suspend serving communion by intinction and alter the passing the peace ritual
Clean toys and other surfaces in the nursery and other area after every use.