Updated March 12, 2020. These guidelines are subject to change as the situation develops.
The best source of information on the COVID-19 virus is NOT the local or international media, but rather the World Health Organization and BC Centre for Disease Control.
On March 11, the World Health Organization characterized the COVID-19 virus as a pandemic. With this new information, governments around the world are being asked to dramatically increase their proactive efforts in reducing the spread of this disease. Although the risk to Canadians remains low, the number of confirmed cases across the country continues to rise.
Also on March 11, Premier John Horgan, BC provincial health officer Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix, Minister of Health met via conference call with 128 faith leaders from across British Columbia to update them on the Province's efforts and enlist their help in those efforts. The unprecendented nature of this meeting is indicative of the important role government officials recognize faith communities play in such events.
During that meeting, Dr Henry stopped short of asking faith groups to not to gather for worship but this may become necessary if the situation changes. Trying to slow the progress of the transmission of this disease so that our health care system is not overwhelmed is an important contribution that we can all make.
It is important to emphasize that the following containment strategies are temporary. Unfortunately, we don’t know how long “temporary” will be in effect. We do know that there will be a time when we can resume familiar practices after the threat has passed.
Dr Henry's key requests for immediate implementation include:
1. Encourage social distancing
- If you feel the slightest bit unwell or have underlying health issues stay home.
- Do not gather in groups unless necessary.
- If you gather, maintain a safe (two arms lengths) distance between one another at all times.
- No hugging, kissing or shaking hands.
2. Do not share food
- Do not share the common cup and if sharing Eucharistic bread, ensure there is no hand-to-hand contact.
- Do not share food unless served in individually packaged containers using FOODSAFE standards. This includes discontinuing coffee time after worship until further notice.
3. Practice proper hygiene & increase cleaning efforts
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water (for at least 20 seconds)
- Do not touch your face
- Sneeze or cough into your sleeve or tissue, not your hands
- Wipe all common surfaces ( tables, railings, pews, chairs, books) with regular cleaning products often and between gatherings
- Remove water from fonts and stoups
Health officials also encouraged faith groups to consider the following:
- Find ways to maintain connections without people feeling the need to gather. For example, offer virtual gatherings using livestreaming and social media to connect to parishioners who feel the need to stay home. Use telephone trees to update people and to check-in regularly.
- Offer social services to support those needing to stay home. For example, deliver groceries and other necessities to the door of those who are self-isolating.
It is important at this time to be aware of the situation as it develops, but not to become overly alarmed. Throughout history the church has been an agent of calm, reassurance, and compassion. This continues to be one of the most important roles we can play during times such as these.
Check back here regularly for updates. We are monitoring the situation closely.