Q&A: Additional COVID questions

July 1, 2020

On this page we answer some of the additional questions you've asked about the re-entry process. We will update these as we get more information.

What about using fans indoors?

From the CDC’s guidance for faith communities: Ensure that ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors, using fans, etc. Do not open windows and doors if they pose a safety risk to children using the facility.

This information also appears on page 22 of our Re-Entry Guidelines document

Will NEAC leadership "have our back" if we decide not to return to in-person worship even if our state guidelines allow it?

As a Conference we have sought to provide resources and guidelines that will allow churches to make informed decisions about their worship practices. We know that different contexts, congregations, and state rules all influence these decisions. We fully support a congregation’s decision not to relaunch in-person worship until they feel prepared and safe.

How should we be using surveys or other information we are gathering from our congregations?

We have suggested churches use surveys to gauge the feelings of their members. We want to be clear that these are simply tools for gathering information, not a mechanism for taking a vote on whether to return to in-person worship. This is a way to gauge your congregation’s risk-tolerance and use that to inform your re-entry team’s decision-making process. It should not be the determining factor in when you return to in-person worship.

What are the recommendations for outdoor worship?

While we have heard from many reliable sources, being outdoors presents less risk for contracting/spreading COVID-19 than being indoors, we do not have any specifics at this point. Keep in mind best practices for physical distancing in outdoor spaces too: including wearing masks and maintaining 6 feet of distance, no sharing of touched items. As we get more information, we will share it here. 

Here is some guidance for drive-in/drive-by worship

To ensure the safety and well-being of members and congregants, churches hosting drive-in services in their parking lots must do so in a way that is consistent with guidelines issued by the CDC for community and faith-based organizations as well as in compliance with local laws. 
IF the above are followed, here are additional guidelines to reduce the risk of spread

  • Anyone showing symptoms should remain home.
  • No windows down if vehicles are closer than 10 feet.
  • Wear masks if windows are down
  • No passing of offering plates or anything else (including communion elements) from car to car. 
  • Electronic giving or mailing offerings are preferred.
  • No use of public bathrooms. 
  • No leaving your vehicle.
  • No more than 10 people in a vehicle.
  • No more than 10 people present to set up and conduct the service.
  • No sitting in open beds of trucks 
  • Inform local law enforcement and invite them to attend if they wish.

Some points worthy of repeating:

Some of these issues are addressed in our guidelines, but we want to highlight them here as well:

Remember, individuals age 65 and older are considered to be at high risk for contracting COVID-19 and are still being urged to stay home as much as possible.

Here are our guidelines for Communion:

The goal is to prevent the spread of germs through food, passed elements, etc. 

• Utilize individual pre-packaged elements handed out as people enter or placed on seats in advance.
• Utilize individual, disposable cups passed out by individual who has sanitized hands, is wearing gloves. 

• Offer a blessing/prayer for those who do not choose to receive communion during this time.
• Have trash receptacles nearby. 

What plans are being made for churches with pastors whose health issues prevent them from in-person worship even following the guidelines?

No pastor should feel pressured to reopen if they are in a high-risk category (or, for that matter, if any parishioners are) ... it is the pastor's prerogative to determine when/how/where worship will be. We included a mention of protecting pastor/staff/volunteers in the document. We will also be communicating with SPRCs that they should be communicating that staff, including the pastor, should not be put at risk.

If worship is held following the guidelines and one person present is diagnosed with COVID-19, do all other attendees have to quarantine for 14 days?

That is the current guidance from CDC ... if you have been exposed. That is why contact tracing is essential...we will need to have names and contact info for everyone that attends an in-person event. The local health dept will need to be notified.

We rent our building to another church. Do they have to follow the same guidelines we do?

The CDC advises that all building users follow these same guidelines.

Do we need certificates of release of legal liability from groups using the building?

If someone gets exposed to COVID-19 in the building are we legally liable?

Will the Conference Insurance plan be adjusted to cover this kind of liability?

It is always expected that outside building users have their own insurance; we encourage all contracts to be updated to inform the groups that the policies of the local church apply to building users as well (this is our insurance company’s expectation for safe sanctuary guidelines, for instance.

Our insurer (all conference churches under this umbrella policy) have told us that there is always risk of liability, but that in most cases a person would have trouble making a claim that they contacted the virus at church. There is no additional insurance that we could get to cover this risk, so they are encouraging vigilance with the CDC guidelines.

How should we address legal questions around building use or other issues?

Churches should seek the counsel of a local attorney. These questions cannot be handled by the Conference chancellor.

Do we need specific brands of cleaning supplies to comply with conference guidelines?

No. The CDC does offer guidelines for the composition of cleaning supplies (including solutions you make yourself) and our best advice is to follow those recommendations. Find them here. A link is included in the Guidelines document as well.

Everything published so far says the virus can live for 3-5 days on metal and much less time on cardboard, paper, fabric, etc. If worship is held on a Sunday and then the building is totally closed until the next Sunday, why must it be sanitized?

The CDC guidance is to disinfect high-touch surfaces daily. Your best intentions may be that you will button things up for the week ... but then the pastor forgets her reading glasses on the pulpit, or the choir director needs to get back in to grab a microphone to record from home; or you decide to have a small funeral service mid-week. Best practices are to clean and disinfect after each use to mitigate any risk of spread.

Infected persons are contagious 2-5 days before symptomatic. Should bathrooms be cleaned after every individual use?

Yes. CDC recommends limiting bathrooms to single use; with disinfecting wipes readily available, asking persons to wipe all touched surfaces and dispose in a non-touch waste basket upon exiting the bathroom (some will choose to CLOSE the bathrooms since this very hard to enforce). If worship services are kept short (recommended for limited exposure) with no gathering before/after (also in the guidelines) then there will be limited need for a bathroom. We do recommend that there be handwashing stations and/or plenty of gel around for people to use upon entry, as well as masks for those who do not bring their own.

Is the conference able to give local churches any guidance on where to equitably source the appropriate equipment for continuing with cyber-worship as we open our sanctuaries to parishioners?

Audio/Visual (A/V) technology resources are available through General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) Learn more

Page 22 of the Safety Action Cleaning states, “Ensure that ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors, using fans, etc. …” Air circulation was discouraged earlier in this webinar. Seems to be conflicting messaging. Please clarify.

Yes, it is difficult to interpret all of the guidelines; our team does not have much information on the safest air circulation method. We have read that fresh air circulation from outdoors is better than air conditioning; we have also seen evidence that the virus can be spread further in the flow of air from a vent (which we would think would be similar with a fan). The bottom line is: Are you feeling at risk? Should you avoid gathering if you are unsure?

Our area has few confirmed cases. Typically, our congregations are relatively small, but made up of many elderly persons. How does this context inform our re-entry decisions?

It is clear that the virus continues to spread into new areas each day. With summer travel, we expect to see even more spread. All state guidelines continue to encourage persons in high-risk categories (which includes persons over 65) to stay home, stay safe. We strongly discourage any activity that could potentially do more harm.

What about the churches where the pastor is in the category of vulnerable – asthma – we also have many senior aged pastors, and pastors with in-house family members who would be put at risk. What happens when the church wants to open but the pastor is afraid that it isn't safe?

From the CDC website: Provide protections for staff and congregants at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Offer options for staff at higher risk for severe illness (including older adults and people of all ages with certain underlying medical conditions) that limit their exposure risk. Offer options for congregants at higher risk of severe illness that limit their exposure risk (e.g., remote participation in services).

Consistent with applicable federal and state laws and regulations, put in place policies that protect the privacy and confidentiality of people at higher risk for severe illness regarding underlying medical conditions.

Is singing with masks not controlling of the virus?

Singing is a very high-risk activity; masks cannot contain the virus AND singing while wearing a mask puts the singer at risk (CO2 builds up in their lungs); so this is why it is strongly discouraged See our fact sheet

Resource shared during the webinar (Thank you!)

Faith Fellowship UMC in North Attleboro, MA, has free towel/rags for cleaning and sanitizing for churches. You will have to pick up or pay for shipping is all we are asking. Email FFUMC at Faithfellowshipumc@verizon.net