How can we safely worship at church in a pandemic?

Many types of gatherings are important for civic and economic well-being; religious worship has particularly profound significance to communities and individuals, including as a right protected by the First Amendment.

in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:21-22, ESV

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

(Although this post addresses the Christian faith, I hope other communities of faith find this useful.)

IMG_2629.jpg
San Fernando Cathedral, San Antonio, Texas

 “Closing” our churches

Many of us have not attended a religious service in person since March, when almost every activity outside our homes ceased in order to limit spread of SARS CoV-2 infection.

Unfortunately churches were lumped into the category of “non-essential”, although we all realize how essential our religious establishments are. But in the context of a serious viral pandemic, our public health professionals believed it was necessary to prohibit all large public indoor gatherings.

Of course, the “Church” never closes; people who consider themselves the Church practice their faith in places other than a designated building-in their homes, in a park, at work, online. My local church already had an online presence so we’ve never missed a week of having teaching and prayer.

My state opened relatively early, and my church reopened soon after. They arranged the sanctuary for social distancing, performed extra cleaning, and now require masks. However, due to our age, my husband and I have chosen to continue worshiping from home.

St. Hedwig Church in Chicago Illinois
St. Hedwig Church in Chicago Illinois

“Reopening” our churches

The CDC, state, and local health departments have issued guidelines for reopening public facilities of all kinds, including churches, and I encourage you to consult those. A private association of Christian physicians and dentists also developed guidelines specific to the needs of churches. (Although these guidelines are directed toward those who practice the Christian faith, I believe that others can apply them to their worship practices.)

7 recommendations for church gatherings during COVID-19
7 recommendations for church gatherings during COVID-19 from the Christian Medical and Dental Associations

The Christian Medical and Dental Associations, CMDA, had a specific purpose in writing their guidelines. As stated-

Part of the mission of CMDA is to glorify God by caring for all people and advancing Biblical principles of healthcare within the Church and throughout the world.

With that in mind, CMDA has enlisted several expert members to provide guidance to church leaders as they wrestle with the problem of re-opening their services within the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the association are all physicians and dentists-students, residents, clinicians, teachers, missionaries, and retired. And they are active members of churches all over the world. So they are in a unique position to consider both the needs of the Church and the needs of public health and safety.

CMDA Guidelines For Reopening Churches

  • Consider size of the area for enclosed gatherings to accommodate social distancing.
  • Offer communion using single use, prepackaged supplies.
  • For baptism, use heated and disinfected water .
  • Limit choir participants and assure adequate social distance , especially if unmasked.
  • Use extra precautions for congregational singing if not done outdoors.
  • For instruments, ensure social distance and limit sharing of equipment.
  • Social distancing, hand hygiene, and masks are recommended for all attendees.

I encourage you to follow the link to the full document which explains the reasons for the recommendations and includes links to pertinent references.

a simple white church flanked by autumn trees
a church in Talulla Falls Georgia

There is no guarantee that even with these measures cases of COVID-19 will not occur due to transmission at a church. Ohio has had several COVID-19 outbreaks recently, many of which the Ohio Department of Health traced to bars, restaurants, churches, and day care centers. Outbreaks in other states have been linked to attendance at church events, including weddings and funerals.

the purpose of these guidelines is to provide evidence-based recommendations for Christian communities who wish to reopen safely.

Though evidence-based, however, these guidelines are not intended to replace government ordinances or health regulations and should be considered in light of local guidance which account for the community prevalence of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 and available resources.

CMDA

 

The Constitution and the CDC

Does closing churches for health reasons violate the Constitution? According to the First Amendment (the first ten amendments are called the Bill of Rights)

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …

Amendment 1, the U.S. Constitution

I suppose it depends on your definition of “the free exercise” thereof.

  • Have we been told to renounce our faith?
  • Are we prohibited from owning or reading our Bibles and other spiritual writings?
  • Can we watch or listen to religious programs on television, radio, and the internet?
  • Can our clergy and teachers continue to preach and instruct?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“This guidance (about church activity during a pandemic) is not intended to infringe on rights protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or any other federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).

The federal government may not prescribe standards for interactions of faith communities in houses of worship, and in accordance with the First Amendment, no faith community should be asked to adopt any mitigation strategies that are more stringent than the mitigation strategies asked of similarly situated entities or activities.

while many types of gatherings are important for civic and economic well-being, religious worship has particularly profound significance to communities and individuals, including as a right protected by the First Amendment.

State and local authorities are reminded to take this vital right into account when establishing their own re-opening plans. “

Here’s another post you may enjoy reading
an open Bible next to a world globe

The place where God lives

And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

sharing the HEART of health, faith, hope, and love

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use this form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn where I also explore the HEART of health.

I took all of the photos in this post on vacations over several years. They are for illustration only, and do not represent CMDA or the guidelines described in this post. I am a member of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations but had no part in writing the guidelines,with which I agree.

 

 

FAITH LOVE HOPE- words created with letter tiles
These three remain, faith, hope and love, and greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

                              Dr. Aletha 

from 1776 to 2020-a vision for a “more perfect Union”

The United States’ healthcare system combines public health efforts with mostly private delivery of health care. Usually they coexist side by side with some but infrequent interaction. The public health emergency created by the pandemic forced them into a “union” that quickly became politicized, and unfortunately diminished the effectiveness of the response.

In ophthalmology, visual acuity is measured by the distance one can see compared to “normal”. 20/80 vision means at 20 feet you only see what a normal vision person can see from 80 feet. Perfect vision is labeled 20/20.

Maybe you expected 2020 to be a perfect year. I didn’t expect perfection, but I hoped it would be better than last year, when my husband and I spent 8 months mostly homebound while he recovered from a devastating ankle fracture.

But instead this year has brought

  • a contentious presidential election and an unexpected serious pandemic
  • peaceful protests and raucous riots
  • racism confrontations and reconciliation pursuits
  • health inequities battles and healthy community pursuits
Statue of Liberty
Lady Liberty lifting her torch in New York harbor
Independence Day 2020

Every year on July 4th the United States celebrates Independence Day- the day in 1776 the original 13 American colonies established an independent country.

A few years later they established a government as specified in the Constitution of the United States, to “form a more perfect Union”.

The United States Constitution

The Constitution does not specifically mention, establish, create, or endorse a healthcare system. Some phrases in the Preamble hint at it though-

  • establish Justice
  • insure domestic Tranquility
  • provide for the common defense
  • promote the general Welfare

Government sponsored health care programs

The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare

The  United States Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 to guarantee basic health insurance to all citizens.  During the last presidential campaign, President Trump vowed to “repeal and replace” this law but although it has been modified, it is still in place.

Healthcare for military service members, veterans ,and their families

During the American Revolution the fledgling government extended health care benefits to the soldiers and veterans of that war; that system evolved into the current Department of Defense military health care system which covers service members and the Veterans’ Administration system for veterans.

a Veterans Administration clinic
a Veterans Administration clinic (photo by Dr. Aletha)
American soldiers serving in Afghanistan
American soldiers serving in Afghanistan
Medicare and Medicaid

Two other government healthcare programs- Medicare and Medicaid are over 50 years old. 

Medicaid provides insurance coverage for adults and children who are unemployed or low income.  

Medicare covers disabled children and adults  and persons 65 years and older.

ELDERLY COUPLE -189282_1280
Senior adults age 65 and older use Medicare.

Department of Health and Human Services

Most of the health care activities of the federal government fall under the agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services or HHS. The Secretary of HHS serves in the President’s Cabinet.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve heard more about the HHS in the news than usual; maybe you’ve never heard of these agencies. Generally, management of a pandemic or other public health emergency falls within the work of the CDC.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC’s mission is simple but encompasses many facets of health

“to work 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S.”

The CDC website devotes an entire section now to information, guidelines, and news about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19.

illustration showing the coronavirus which causes COVID-19

The goal of public health is to avoid or prevent health threats from becoming public health emergencies, like the COVID-19 pandemic. If they accomplish the mission, we hardly notice. But when an outbreak occurs, their work suddenly becomes visible, scrutinized, and debated.

The CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield, spoke to Congress soon after the pandemic started, and his assessment of the response and funding for it were not positive. Lack of funding hampered the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, he told lawmakers on March 10, 2020.

“The truth is we’ve underinvested in the public health labs,There’s not enough equipment, there’s not enough people, there’s not enough internal capacity, there’s no search capacity”

Dr. Robert Redfield, Director, CDC

The Trump administration subsequently enlisted private companies to help cut the difference. The CDC partnered with Integrated DNA Technologies to manufacture the tests under a CDC contract. IDT partnered with commercial labs, including LabCorp and Quest, for the testing.

This was reported at CNBC. at the following link.

Coronavirus testing delays caused by lack of funding for public health labs

National Institutes of HealthNIH

The National Institutes of Health, part of the Public Health Service,

  • supports biomedical and behavioral research with the United States and abroad,
  • conducts research in its own laboratories and clinics,
  • trains promising young researchers, and
  • promotes collecting and sharing medical knowledge.

And within the NIH is the NIAID– the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which has been an invaluable source of guidance as the United States and the world works to understand and manage this new infectious disease.

Strategic Plan for COVID-19 RESEARCH

  1. Improve fundamental knowledge of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19
  2. Support the development of diagnostics and assays
  3. Characterize and test therapeutics
  4. Develop safe and effective vaccines against SARS-Cov-2

Read the full report at the link.

President Donald Trump Visits NIH
President Donald Trump visited NIH on March 3, 2020 and toured the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ Vaccine Research Center (VRC) to learn about research on a vaccine for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. From left: VRC Deputy Director Dr. Barney Graham, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, VRC Director John Mascola, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, President Trump, and VRC Research Fellow Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett.
credit NIH, public domain
Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2
This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (orange)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (green) cultured in the lab.
 
Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases-Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIH

Food and Drug Administration– FDA

The FDA joins the pandemic response by

  • reviewing and approving diagnostic tests for the coronavirus
  • protecting consumers from fraudulent products for COVID-19.
  • issuing Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for ventilators
  • sampling and testing of respirators for importation

As of June 26 there are 153 currently authorized tests under EUAs; these include 129 molecular tests, 23 antibody tests, and 1 antigen test.

There are currently no FDA-approved products to prevent or treat COVID-19. Consumers concerned about COVID-19 should consult with their health care provider.

COVID-19 Diagnostic Test Attire
FDA Commissioned Corps officer RADM Estella Jones, DVM, OCET Deputy Director and Co-Chair of the FDA Animal Welfare Council, oversees Commissioned Corps officers as they practice proper fitting of protective items. Healthcare workers testing patients for COVID-19 novel coronavirus infection must wear specific protective gowns, gloves, ventilation masks, and full facial shields as shown, and must replace these items after each patient is tested. credit FDA, public domain

Occupational Safety and Health administration-OSHA

OSHA is part of the United States Department of Labor. OSHA’s administrator answers to the Secretary of Labor, who is a member of the cabinet of the President of the United States.

Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1970 to

ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.

For the pandemic response, OSHA offers guidance on

  • returning to work
  • preparing workplaces for COVID-19
  • worker exposure risk to COVID-19
  • for specific industries including airlines, farms, retail, corrections
  • use of respiratory protection equipment

This page on the OSHA website explains the

key differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks, and respirators.

important laws that administer and regulate both private and public healthcare.

The Affordable Care Act- ACA
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-HIPPA
Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act- EMTALA
Americans with Disabilities Act-ADA
Family Medical Leave Act-FMLA
replica of the Liberty Bell at Disney World, Florida

Let Freedom Ring

In the Declaration of Independence, the founders of the United States created a nation based on the “self-evident truths”  of  “Life ,Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” and to promote “Safety and Happiness” . 

They didn’t mention “healthcare” either, maybe because in the late 1700s medical practice was more superstition than science.

Surgery was rudimentary due to no anesthesia and infections frequently proved deadly due to no antibiotics.

No one had even imagined, much less identified the human genome, and viral DNA-what was that??

I wonder if they intended their new government to spend so much time and money providing and regulating health care –most of which was not available or even imagined at that time? 

Public vs Private-not a perfect Union

The United States’ healthcare system combines public health efforts with mostly private delivery of health care. Usually they coexist side by side with some but infrequent interaction.

The public health emergency created by the pandemic forced them into a “union” that quickly became politicized, and unfortunately diminished the effectiveness of the response.

But despite the lack of coordination and cooperation between all levels of government and private citizens, our health care professionals, in both public health and private medical practice stayed true to their calling. Many risked their own lives to care for COVID-19 victims. Others sacrificed time and finances to lead the pandemic response in their communities and on social media- maybe not perfectly, but definitely UNITED in resolve to lead, help, and heal their fellow citizens through this unprecedented health emergency.

Let’s celebrate!

woman holding a sprakler
Let’s celebrate ! This photo and featured image from stock photo site- Lightstock.com (affiliate)

Sharing and celebrating the HEART of health

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use this form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn where I also explore the HEART of health.

Dr. Aletha 

a woman in a red, white, and blue shirt
Me, a few years ago, showing my patriotic spirit by posing in red, white, and blue

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