We are living through one of the most monumental and ever-evolving chapters of our nation’s history. During these difficult and trying times, people of faith are turning towards their religious foundations and community leaders for guidance, support, and comfort.
Unfortunately, in an effort to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, we are unable to turn to the physical places of worship we have come to rely upon as sanctuaries in times of darkness. However, we can still turn to our communities of faith through prayer chains, live-streamed sermons, phone-call devotionals, and Face Time Sunday school classes.
I wanted to ensure that you saw these guidelines from the CDC for faith and community leaders as well as for members during these unprecedented times.
Before a COVID-19 outbreak occurs in your community: Plan
A COVID-19 outbreak could last for weeks or even months in your community. Depending on the severity of the outbreak, public health officials may recommend community actions to reduce spread of COVID-19. Local public health officials may make recommendations appropriate to your local situation, such as flexible sick-leave and telework policies.
Establish ongoing communication with your local public health department to facilitate access to relevant information before and during an outbreak.
Having a good contingency plan in place and developing flexible policies and procedures to accommodate public health recommendations can help reduce infection. During your planning process, remember to engage key partners across both public and private sectors, such as local businesses, schools, other community- and faith-based organizations, and community leaders. You can find your local Virginia Health Department by clicking here. Also, the specific details of your plan should be based on the extent of the outbreak and the size of your organization and workforce, complexity of your day-to-day operations, and type of on-site and off-site services your organization provides to vulnerable populations.
Connect to community-wide planning.
Find out if your local government has a private-public emergency planning group that meets regularly. Building strong alliances before an outbreak may provide your organization with the support and resources needed to respond effectively. Also, in recognition of the “whole community” approach to emergency planning and management, your input as community leaders and stakeholders helps ensure the completeness and representativeness of your local government’s emergency operations plan.
During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community: Act
Establish a “buddy” system to ensure vulnerable and hard-to-reach community members stay connected to COVID-19-related news and services.
It is important that your emergency operations planning team meets regularly (even if by video or telephone conferencing, rather than in-person) during an outbreak to accurately assess, manage, and communicate possible risks. Special consideration should be given to communicating risk to vulnerable populations in your community, including older adults and others with access and functional needs. Encourage those you serve to seek out a “buddy” who will check on and help care for them if they get sick. Early action to slow the spread of COVID-19 will help keep staff and volunteers healthy and help your organization maintain normal operations.
Establish alternative forms of communicating with your organization.
For faith and community leaders, much of your engagement with your communities occurs face-to-face. During a COVD-19 outbreak in your community, you must find alternative methods to communicate and engage with your organization. These methods can be as simple as establishing a phone-based prayer chain or as in-depth as live-streaming a weekly sermon or speaker from your home. Below are a few suggestions to maintain contact with those in your organization through an outbreak:
- Telephone prayer chain
- Live-streamed sermons or speakers (can be done through hosting services or Facebook Live)
- Tele-conference devotionals
- Weekly email updates that you encourage members to submit photos of themselves at home during containment practices
- Face Time, Skype, or group video call faith-based classes, scripture studies, and other small-group activities.
After a COVID-19 outbreak has ended in your community: Follow Up
Establish criteria and procedures for when and how response actions will be phased out.
Remember, a COVID-19 outbreak can last for a long time. When public health officials determine that the outbreak has ended, work with them to identify criteria for phasing out and ending your organization’s COVID-19 actions. The criteria should be based on reduced severity or a slowing of the outbreak in your local area.
Click here for further guidance from the CDC on ways to stay connected, stay prepared, and stay healthy through these trying times. You can also click here for a checklist of important steps to take as leaders in your community.
I strongly encourage you to reach out remotely, ensuring that you continue to practice social distancing, to folks in your community and congregation during this time. Together, we will come through this time in our history stronger than before.