Important Coronavirus/COVID-19 Notice to Church and Charity LeadersFaith
Re: WORKPLACES, PUBLIC EVENTS AND SHORT-TERM MISSION TRAVEL
This information is being provided in response to inquiries by our church and charitable organization clients and is intended to keep our clients healthy, informed and prepared. However the decision regarding safety and risk management is the responsibility of your board of directors, or in accordance with advice and orders by public health authorities.
The Public Health Agency of Canada and the world health community continues to closely monitor the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease it causes, named “coronavirus disease 2019” (COVID-19). At this time although there is much speculation, no one knows for sure how severe this outbreak will be in terms of mutation, transmission rate and resultant health symptoms, conditions and mortality rate. However it appears to be spreading more easily than the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003 and later outbreaks of H1N1 (2009) and MERS (2012).
There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and one won’t likely be available for a year, or more.
Given this uncertainty and the fact that the seasonal influenza (flu) virus is also widespread; governments, businesses and not-for-profits are taking proactive steps to address a number of concerns and unknowns, including workplace health and safety. First and foremost, it is important to maintain safe public spaces and workplaces and to encourage and/or adopt practices protecting the health of employees, volunteers, members, participants and visitors.
The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus, including a number of common sense Best Practices being communicated by public health agencies and through responsible media sources, including:
- If you have a chronic illness and/or weakened immune system, stay at home.
- Stay home when you are sick or have had close contact with someone who has a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use recommended hand sanitizers (preferably spray) with minimum 70% alcohol content.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with the inside of your clothed elbow, or with a tissue, then throw the tissue immediately into the garbage.
- Avoid close contact with those who appear to be sick with respiratory symptoms (coughs, sneezing, difficulty breathing, pneumonia, etc.) or fever.
- If displaying any of the above symptoms yourself, immediately self-quarantine and then call your doctor’s office to get their advice and prepare EMS and the emergency department at your local hospital for your arrival and testing.
- Avoid contact with elderly persons or persons with chronic illness and/or impaired immunity who are at much greater risk, in order to protect the most vulnerable.
- Recommend that elderly persons or persons with chronic illness and/or impaired immunity avoid public gatherings including religious services, for the present time.
- Sanitize frequently-touched surfaces, especially in kitchens, bathrooms, desks, door handles, railings, telephones, and computer keyboards, touchscreens and computer mouses, etc.
- Practice “social distancing” including avoiding large crowds, touching surfaces, being in enclosed spaces with other people and staying a MINIMUM of at least 1 metre (3 feet) from others in public.
- Be prepared by developing an Infectious Disease Policy to help everyone in your organization better understand the risks and to more effectively maintain preventative strategies that minimize transmission; and that can be escalated depending on public health updates, including advice, notices, social distancing or quarantine orders, along with a protocol for reporting relevant symptoms, interactions and recent travel to your leaders to allow for prevention, self-quarantine and notification of public authorities and others who may have been exposed.
- Based on your organization’s policy above, your management or board should require those who are symptomatic to stay home and seek medical care.
- Check regularly for updates and notices from the Government of Canada Public Health Agency and website, and your provincial ministry of health and/or local public health unit – https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html
Useful link for Being Prepared – Communities, Daycares, Schools and Workplaces – https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/being-prepared.html
Useful link entitled Risk-informed Decision-Making for Mass Gatherings – https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/health-professionals/mass-gatherings-risk-assesment.html
These Best Practices are also being conveyed within the context of church and charity settings in practical ways, including the following partial list of recommendations:
- Avoid handshaking, hugging and other intimate types of greetings, including ushers and greeters at Sunday services. We are seeing more people sending a friendly wave instead of a handshake or their regular greeting!
- Encourage receiving tithes and offerings electronically (e-transfer, PayPal, church donation apps, etc.) or through cheques via mail or dropped off in secure drop boxes at the church, rather than passing around offering plates.
- As much as possible allow for seating in church services with a reasonable distances between individuals or family groups, to allow them to protect themselves as they see fit.
- Consider temporarily suspending water baptism, public communion, and prayer involving close or physical contact.
- Consider videotaping or streaming church services, bible studies and prayer, and making those most at risk in your congregation aware of this option.
- Consider temporarily cancelling nursery, children’s and youth programming, including vacation day camps, in order to protect those who are not able to make their own legal informed choices about personal safety and health.
- Organize staff, pastors and volunteers (working from home or the office as advisable) to remain in contact with congregants via telephone, Skype, FaceTime, etc., especially those who are shut-in and in need of continuing pastoral care and possible deliveries of food, medication and other necessities, avoiding close contact.
- Because of the delayed symptoms in many COVID-19 cases, medical experts are recommending that we adopt the attitude that we each may already have a mild case of the virus but are asymptomatic or may not realize we have it because of mild symptoms; and as potential “carriers” that we act responsibly in how we interact with others in our daily lives at work and in public, including church, school, day care, college, inner city missions, etc., being especially mindful of the potential for passing it along to seniors (including at home and in care facilities) or with chronic illnesses and/or impaired immunity, populations who are most at risk of serious symptoms or death.
- The latest news releases from the Public Health Agency and provincial Ministries of Health at this time (as at March 10, 2020) indicate the virus is not circulating locally. However given the global circumstances, public health authorities are actively reviewing and considering measures to prevent the potential of local spread of the virus.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND ACTION
In light of the above Best Practices and effective immediately, the following are now being recommended by public health authorities in Canada and the USA:
1. Implementing and posting best practices for churches, schools, day cares, colleges and other charity workplaces, and in places where members, students, participants or guests gather, similar to the above link or other public health authorities. This should include at entrances and in hallways, offices and at entrances to sanctuaries and fellowship halls, conveyed in the language(s) by which you customarily communicate to employees, members, volunteers, members and attendees.
2. Consider postponing or cancelling large-scale public events including concerts, conferences, community fun days, public holiday events and other mass gatherings, for the time being. These include events that involve a large number of persons in a small area (indoor or outdoor) where they are realistically unable to keep a 1-metre distance (3 feet) from each other and therefore avoid the temptation of shaking hands, hugging, sharing food, participating in recreational team activities, using bouncy castles and other inflatables, playground, sports and recreational equipment, or otherwise encouraging person-to-person contact in public places with no knowledge of whether persons in attendance are infected, whether they are asymptomatic or displaying very mild symptoms, as is the case with over 80% of all infected with the coronavirus.
Note: Discretion for the cancellation of regular church services and other regular events assuming that the above Best Practices or similar are followed is the choice and responsibility of your board. However this may be subject to change at any time, depending on the advice or order of local, provincial or federal public health authorities.
3. Postponement or cancellation of non-essential travel including short-term mission, scholastic or recreational trips (i.e. amusement parks, public concerts, etc.) involving non-essential and non-professional activities; and ANY trips outside of Canada involving minor-aged (i.e. under 18) participants. The only exception are for adult workers engaged in essential and/or professional services who have signed a formal waiver including informed consent and release of liability of the organization, its directors and trip leaders for any and all legal liability, having first been informed on the waiver by your organization of the risk of infection and potentially reduced medical care in other locations/countries during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak.
Assuming that public health authorities are accurate in their understanding of Coronavirus/COVID-19 at a projected mortality rate of 2%, the consequences of spreading the virus from those who are experiencing mild cases (whether they know they are infected or not) to those who are elderly and those with chronic illness and/or reduced immunity in our own families, churches, organizations and communities – such as has already taken place in faith communities in other countries – would be catastrophic!
We believe that without more details on the transmission and severity of the virus and confirmation that it can successfully be contained and managed through sound public and personal safety practices, the responsible, wise and caring course of action is for employers and organizations to follow the above Best Practices, or similar, and to postpone large public events and non-essential travel at the present time.
“For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power and of love, and of a sound mind” – Timothy 1:7
Kenneth A. Hall, President
Kenneth A. Hall, B.A. (Hons), R.F. is the President of Robertson Hall Insurance Inc. Ken specializes in customized insurance and risk management advise for over 7,000 churches and charities across Canda with the Church and Charity Protection Plus program. To find out more about Ken and the team click here. To find out more about Church and Charity Protection Plus click here.