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Opinions of Saturday, 23 May 2020

Columnist: Seth Danquah

Churches are working to mitigate the spread of coronavirus ahead of reopening

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Following President Akufo-Addo’s meeting with heads of churches and ecumenical councils in April, 2020 at the Jubilee House where he urged the Christian leaders to develop modalities and guidelines to mitigate the spread of the virus should the ban on public gathering be lifted, the Christian leaders have developed some interventions and strategies.

In assessing its readiness and capacity to comply with COVID-19 pandemic safety protocols as it prepares to come back for communal worship, the following potential risk areas were enumerated in a Communique signed by the Most Reverend Dr. Paul Boafo, Chairman of the Christian Council of Ghana.

Entrance points to churches, doors, door handles, rails, pillars; utility areas in the church, WC handles, washroom door handles; seating arrangements in the church, close seating arrangement in the church that breaches social distancing regulations, group sitting e.g. the choir and nature of church building poorly ventilated churches – having few and small windows, entirely glass windows that impede free flow of air will be assessed.

Nature of service (handshakes during welcome sessions, singing groups congregating at one side and singing, group meetings – Sunday schools where teachers speak to small groups, communion services where cups are handed to individuals, communion service where many people drink from one cup, communion services where packaged loaves are handed to individuals) will be changed.

Devices and items (microphones used commonly by more than one person, faucets, telephones, money handled by more than one person through giving offering and tithes); vestries and Pastors’ offices (door and seat handles, rails, poorly ventilated rooms, common surfaces including Pastors’ tables) amongst others would be regularly sanitized.

Among the interventions to put in place to mitigate the potential spread include: Make available hand-washing materials for all to wash hands before entering the church or touching rails, door handles and pillars. A running tap or Veronica bucket should be put at all entrances for every church member to wash hands before entering the church. Hands-free soap dispenser must be fitted to avoid cross-contamination.

Make alcohol-based hand sanitizer (preferably a dispenser) available at near church entrances, outside washrooms, Pastors’ offices, vestries and lobbies for members to sanitize their hands.

Have one person (usher) dedicated to the entrance to enforce the above, making sure that every church member at least, washes the hands for 20 seconds under running water and also sanitizes the hands after washing. In addition, churches should put up signs reminding people to wash hands, cough/sneeze into their elbows and remind people from the pulpit/stage.

Clean utility areas, surfaces and items touched by different people routinely. Preferably clean surfaces every 1-2 hours depending on utilization. Door handles, WC handles, faucets, microphones. Seat arms/handles should be disinfected before and after service for the next session.

Seating should be rearranged to allow social distancing rules. Contiguous seats should be 2 arms-length reach (2m). So should be the distance before and after one seat to ensure that cough, sneeze and talking from one church member does not predispose the neighbours to the virus particularly from asymptomatic carriers.

Provide separate seating areas for the aged and families and organize church services in sessions due to the need for social distancing as described above with at least one hour in between services.

All church members including pastors are to wear facemasks to enter churches, particularly those who will engage by talking e.g. pastors, Sunday school teachers etc. to prevent droplet infections from getting to the others.

For all others, it will also prevent them getting droplets from others in the church. Masks are to be kept on until one comes back home. This will reduce the risk of spread from asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
All windows should be opened fully during church services to allow good ventilation. There should be no use of air conditioners to diffuse and reduce the concentration of the virus (should there be anyone infected) in the room.

All handshakes are to be avoided in churches during this period of COVID-19 since it will lead to cross-contamination and spread of the virus. All who speak in churches must wear N95 facemasks during service to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others.

Singers/Choristers will observe social distancing and also avoid second row of singers. As much as possible, prerecorded music may be used. During Communion Service, individual cups for communion will be offered. Reduce hand-to-hand transmission by providing individual bread and cup servings.

Hand hygiene and food safety precautions must strictly be observed by those who prepare these communions.

It is advisable not to pass offering bowls and baskets around during offering and tithes. Items that are frequently handled can be sources of contaminants for the COVID-19 virus. The virus could be retained on the offering/tithe bowl for hours and can be passed on to others.

The best option will be for a stationary bowl with a wide opening to be put in front or entry point where people do not need to handle the bowl before putting in their offering and tithes. Where practicable, churches should advice their members to use mobile money for offerings and tithes as this means of giving reduces the risk of transmission.

The church should educate church members and persons in the communities where it is located on Covid-19 measures. Selected members in the church should be trained and be made responsible for COVID-19 education and coordination of resources to help the church while the church should mobilize resources to help individuals in need.