Flu prompts church changes

Volunteers encouraged to stay home, parishioners urged to wave as faith organizations cope with the flu outbreak.

February 9, 2018

As the flu continues to spread a across the country, churches are trying to keep from being part of the problem.

"Be a good neighbor," the Rev. Thomas Mousin, rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charlestown, MA, wrote to his parishioners. "If you are sick, or feeling sick, stay home if you can. It is OK to miss a Sunday at church if you have any reason to believe that you might be catching the flu or are capable of spreading it."

At Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church in Columbia, MD, a mid-week youth ministry gathered in its closing circle touching elbows instead of holding hands this week.

Johnny Nix of Pickett's Mill Baptist Church in Dallas, GA, has asked volunteers to consider staying away.

"We've instructed our volunteers and workers to postpone coming by for a couple of weeks if they or someone in their family has had it," Nix told Georgia Baptists' Christian Index newsjournal. "That may seem a little extreme, but we're taking every precaution necessary."

At First Baptist Church in Cartersville, GA, members and visitors were encouraged to replace handshakes with a "warm wave" during the welcome time.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine, announced in January it was asking parishes to suspend certain rituals of Mass: sharing wine, shaking hands at the peace and holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer. In Buffalo, New York, the Roman Catholic diocese issued a similar list of directives, including a command to parishes to drain their holy water fonts and clean them regularly.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's top recommendation for preventing the flu is to receive the vaccine, even in years when the particular flu strain may seem more resistant to vaccination. Some churches have hosted vaccination clinics, like one at Grace Episcopal Church in Fairfield, CA. Grace Episcopal wanted the community to see the church as a “health and wellness resource,” outreach coordinator Ron Cupid told the Daily Republic.

Nellie Brown, a certified industrial hygienist and director of Workplace Health & Safety Programs at Cornell University’s School of Labor and Industrial Relations, offers tips on how to minimize the potential for virus spreading in the workplace or in other organizational settings.

Did you touch the stapler? “Think about what you touch. Did you use an ATM? Did you put gas in your car? If you were in a conference room—did you touch the table and chairs at the meeting? Did you borrow a stapler? Did you go to the water cooler and touch the handle? We touch a lot of things in common and that’s how diseases are spread."

How to contain germs: “Clean with germicide. In order to prevent the spread of germs, clean surfaces with an EPA-registered germicide that kills influenza. Do a thorough hand-washing with regular soap and wash your hands more often. If you use a tissue, throw it away. If you are headachy and stuffy, watch your sneezing etiquette—when you cough or sneeze the droplets can spread easily six feet.

Episcopal Relief & Development’s Website offers faith-based guidelines on how to respond to large-scale outbreaks of diseases like influenza.

This story was based, in part, on articles published by the Episcopal News Service and the Southern Baptist Press.

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