Christian Love, Compassion in Action

How Should Churches Respond to the Coronavirus? Let’s talk!!

This post is unique and important. On Sunday, the following article by John Roach was published in Tumbleweird – my local community-driven publication. (Tumbleweird . . . because we are known for our tumbleweed!) John gave me permission to post his article in its entirety here.

This topic is an important one. As of last night, my team at work has permission to work remotely. This is in response to the accelerated and real threat of the coronavirus affecting our community. All around me, I hear of businesses and schools either working remotely, or making plans to allow people to work/do school remotely.

I live only a few hours from the epicenter in the US – where the outbreak started and has escalated. Our area reported the first deaths in the US from the coronavirus.

While this article discusses my local area, it is applicable to all communities.

I would like to use this article to brainstorm on how churches can serve their communities.

  • How can church leaders be proactive in responding to this outbreak?
  • What are some practical measures that can be taken to protect and serve both congregants and those outside the church?
  • If you are a church leader, what are you doing? Do you have plans in place?

Now, on to this important article. ~Julie Anne

It is now clear to public health experts that the novel coronavirus epidemic in Washington State and other parts of the country is accelerating. The time has come for us to work together as a community to minimize the impact in the Tri-Cities.

The bottom line is this simple:

  • The spread of coronavirus can be slowed down.
  • Slowing it down saves lives.
  • We should commit to working hard together to do this.

Slowing the spread buys time for healthcare systems and our society as a whole to prepare, and we should lead the way as a proactive, compassionate community.

Though we haven’t seen our first confirmed case in the Tri-Cities yet, there are positive tests in surrounding counties and it now seems only a matter of time.

Because of the nature of the virus, the stakes may be quite low for many healthy individuals, but they are high as a community. As one analysis put it:

Your personal risk, if you’re a young and healthy adult… is fairly low… But your risk of inadvertently catching and passing along the coronavirus to someone else, and continuing a transmission chain that eventually results in a COVID-19 death, is much higher.

Because of these stakes, it is my firm belief that our community needs to shift its mindset now and begin proactive preparations to flatten the epidemiological curve (more on this later) and mitigate the impacts of what’s likely coming.

I started as a skeptic

It took me awhile to get to this place.  In my role as the Director of Cybersecurity at the DOE Hanford Site it’s part of my daily routine to assess and manage risk, which may range from things like small localized phishing attempts all the way to major events that affect geopolitical stability like the recent attacks on Iran. It’s part of my job to filter through speculation and hysteria on the Internet, and my bias is consistently aimed towards working from a data-driven, fact-focused position. It is second nature for me to dispel Internet hype, rumor, hyperbole, and dis/misinformation.

Two weeks ago during a staff meeting, a colleague shared a graphic showing BIG RED SCARY CIRCLES depicting coronavirus clusters around the world. I gently chided the person for contributing to alarmism, suggesting that China’s containment measures had mostly worked and that data visualizations like the one she’d shared were psychologically dangerous because of the way they worked on the brain.

We must be prepared

However, after conversations with multiple experts and coming to understand where we actually are in terms of our readiness as a community and a country, I now believe we need to act quickly as a community. Panic serves no one, but as an Eagle Scout I was taught that “Be Prepared” are words to live by. The Tri-Cities needs to be prepared.

It’s worth taking a moment to grasp where we are before talking about solutions. Three months ago, patients in China first began experiencing coronavirus symptoms. Within weeks China had identified the new virus, which is 5x – 20x more fatal than influenza and spreads asymptomatically, and instituted unprecedented, draconian measures to contain it by aggressively quarantining 50 million people. They were successful in containing much of the spread, but their real success is seen by many epidemiologists as “buying the rest of the world time” to prepare.

Despite China’s effort, the virus is now in 100 countries and appears to have the characteristics of a true pandemic with associated exponential growth. Bill Gates and many other public health experts have indicated that we shouldn’t be surprised by this, and that our globally interconnected society is actually long overdue for another pandemic on the scale of the 1918 Spanish Flu which killed 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 in the US.

What should we be doing as a Tri-Cities community to not squander the gift of time that the Chinese response bought us?

We should be moving quickly and aggressively to mitigate spread, ready the healthcare system, ensure our local leaders are coordinating with the state to develop a uniform, systematic response, and provide financial & supportive assistance to help these efforts and impacted individuals, especially those in vulnerable populations.

Broadly speaking, we should be aiming to flatten the curve.

Flattening the curve

In an epidemic, once containment becomes impossible the strategy needs to shift to mitigation. The goal is to maximize the health care systems’ ability to serve the affected population.

By adopting protective measures such as “social distancing”, travel limitations, and excellent hygiene a community can slow the spread of the disease and spread out the consumption of healthcare resources over a longer period of time.

This saves lives both in the short and long term, by making sure more people have access to ICU beds when they need them, by giving our supply chain time to ramp up production of masks and other personal protective equipment which are in short supply, and by allowing time for a vaccine to eventually be created.

According to a February presentation at the American Hospital Association, American hospitals are preparing operationally for a 5,000,000 bed shortage nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic.

John Droesch, MD, a Kadlec physician and former Chief of Surgery, confirmed that Kadlec is treating this number as a credible projection but also indicated that Kadlec has not been planning for any field hospital or quarantine space as this is not their jurisdiction.

The Tri-Cities is a regional healthcare hub.  The current situation in Lombardy, Italy, which began spreading in a suburban non-metropopolis area is illustrative of what could happen here, in our community.

On March 7, the head of the Lombardy’s intensive care crisis unit reported that the health system is on the brink of collapse, with intensive care being set up in hallways. By March 26 they predict ~18,000 coronaviruses cases in Lombardy, of which ~3,000 will need intensive care.

This creates a cascading effect where critical cases of all types aren’t able to get the care they need, which impacts everyone, not just the demographics that are more at-risk from coronavirus.

We aren’t testing anywhere near enough patients

Unfortunately, the US testing capacity for coronavirus is still, right now, among the worst in the world.

As of March 7, we’ve tested less than 3,000 people while other affected countries have tested many tens or even hundreds of thousands, and many symptomatic people in the US have been denied testing around the country due lack of tests and associated narrow testing protocols.  

Even at the LifeCare center in Kirkland, WA where the first major outbreak occurred, they have not yet been able to test all staff members. This lag in testing is finally being addressed, but in the meantime it has contributed to artificially low numbers and a false sense of security, which has been compounded by the understandable backlash to what is being seen by some as just another overhyped media response to the scary-virus-of-the-year—H1N1 (swine flu), SARS, MERS, etc.

It now seems clear, though, that this time it really is different.

We need a greater sense of urgency

Over the last three days my wife, Pasco City Councilmember Zahra Roach, has spoken with several local elected officials and county employees about our pandemic emergency planning with respect to healthcare capacity.

The lack of urgency in these conversations make it clear that as a community, we need to start treating it as a very high likelihood that we will see a spike in coronavirus cases here in the Tri-Cities as testing capacity increases.  

This is not a drill. We need to shift our mindset and start adopting measures now to protect our healthcare system and our vulnerable populations.  This is going to be our reality for the next few months, and buying ourselves a couple of extra weeks of preparedness right now *will* save lives down the line.

How many?

What should we be doing in the Tri-Cities?

  • First and foremost, we need to shift our mindset, with a sense of real urgency, towards a community-led, state-guided, nationally-supported response. This experience may stress our systems to the max, but it also presents an incredible opportunity for community togetherness, mutual support, and resilience.
  • Encourage immediate coordination between city, county, and healthcare officials on addressing our healthcare capacity needs.  This should include identifying potential facilities for large-scale triage and quarantine.
  • Be ready to adopt major social distancing measures including cancellation of all large-crowd events, remote work wherever possible, limited travel etc.
  • In the event of school closures, work with school districts to ensure that free and reduced lunch students still have their nutritional needs met
  • Connect affected small business owners and affected workers with state relief resources.
  • Lobby Dan Newhouse for passage of Patty Murray’s bill emergency sick leave funding bill.
  • Schedule an appointment with Red Cross to give blood.
  • Work with local Emergency Response officials to identify gaps in the existing response plan that can be filled by community volunteers.
  • Establish or build on existing community and faith networks to ensure our vulnerable populations – elderly, immunocompromised, disabled, poor – are accounted for and cared for during this period. (This one is hugely important! More to come here.)

If you haven’t been following this thing closely, I understand that it’s a lot to process. A lot of the messaging around this has focused on hygiene and the fact that your individual risk is relatively low, which unfortunately has masked the systemic risk that is now materializing.

Once again, the bottom line is this: coronavirus spread can be slowed down, slowing it down saves lives, and we should commit to working hard together to do this. Slowing the spread buys time for healthcare systems and our society as a whole to prepare, and we should lead the way as a proactive, compassionate community.

This is about more than making sure you’ve got 14 days of supplies to last through an individual quarantine, it’s about coming together as a community to weather what looks to be a once-a-century challenge. But I know we can do it!

Thanks for reading. I’ll be sharing more soon.

Direct Sources:

  • John Droesch, MD, Kadlec Medical Center
  • Amy Person, MD, Benton Franklin County Health Dept.
  • David Roach, MD, UW Harborview Medical Center ICU
  • Shannon Schneider, PhD, Immunology, Leo Pharmaceuticals
  • John Michael Roach, MD, Our Lady of Lourdes, Retired

Key Resources:

Supporting News Articles:

14 thoughts on “How Should Churches Respond to the Coronavirus? Let’s talk!!”

  1. I don’t know how helpful it will be–though the guy leading is an MD so I’m inclined to trust him–but at church last Sunday, we were encouraged to forego the customary holy kiss (I mean handshakes) and figure out another way to greet one another, and the elderly are all but encouraged to watch on TV. Those with a cough/etc.. were encouraged to stay home altogether.

    It’s really a slightly different version of staying at home when we get heavy snow or temperatures below ten below, which happens a few times each winter.

    Another thought about this is that the # of deaths in China is still not that high; either they’re lying their pants off, or measures to reduce transmission are actually working. We don’t like quarantining ourselves, but if you reduce the number of people infected by each carrier of the disease to 1 or less, that epidemic becomes merely a nuisance.


  2. How about providing relief to those in quarantine? Just delivering groceries and other necessities to the doorstep. If these rushes to stores are any indication, people are afraid of getting stuck in their houses under quarantine because they lack outside support to get what they need. Churches could help to provide that outside support.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. At my office, there is a manager who said he would have great difficulty working from home because he has two very active young children. As a mom of 7, I understand that!! His wife is a teacher and can teach remotely. But they are in a predicament if their daycare shuts down. His job is very important in cyber security. I told him that I could flex my time and watch his kiddos for a couple hours so he could get some of his important work done. These kinds of things are what churches can do: help with childcare.


  4. I think a consistent message about hygiene, preventative measures, care for each other, and prayer for all is a good start. Disseminating truth is what we’re supposed to do, so we can keeping doing that concerning the virus. It did feel a bit funny serving the host from a teaspoon–but everyone was cool with it! We’ve also started a conversation with the council and the doctors in our church to come to an idea of what our ‘switch’ will be, signalling us to close the building for a couple of weeks. That’s a bummer, esp. for the smaller ministries that use it throughout the week, but we’d get through it together.


  5. It was a personal choice to stay home this winter rather than attend church (before the Covid-19 outbreak). I have never been a fan of the “stand and greet those around you” portion of the service. Usually, I try to politely decline but there are those who somehow squeeze a handshake in there. It has long been a mantra of mine that churches should forgo this tradition from October to April – during peak cold/flu season, especially with so many elderly and children at risk. But, no.
    Now that Covid-19 is here, we will just continue to stay home and worship “in place.”

    As for being prepared, we will continue to practice good hygiene and get our groceries through the “pick it up” option at Krogers. We also have meals delivered twice a month through Home Chef (wonderful service if you’ve never tried them)!

    I work nights as an RN for an innercity hospital, level 3 trauma center of about 250-beds. Starting this past weekend, all disposable masks have been locked away. We are required to sign out 1 mask a day and use it for the duration of our shift (on patients in isolation). Security comes up 3x a shift, days and nights, to ensure that the masks are securely locked. I guess people were stealing them? As for oncoming surge – I have no idea what to anticipate. We were swamped this weekend with all the normal stuff: heart failure, COPD, pneumonia, flu, surgeries, etc. Covid-19 will max our ratios as staff become ill alongside patients. I anticipate some long nights ahead.


  6. Another thought about this is that the # of deaths in China is still not that high; either they’re lying their pants off, or measures to reduce transmission are actually working.

    No, it has about 2% (iirc) kill rate, which is significantly higher than flu. It is very infectious, though, so the more cases, the more deaths. We are significantly behind compared to other countries. Look at how much italy’s cases have doubled! We have done a terrible job with testing too, so are case numbers are artificially low.

    As for church, our communion was changed slightly this week to try to minimize contact but I didn’t see anything else yet. Hasn’t hit my state officially though. It’s only a matter of time.


  7. Lea, no doubt about the kill rate (let’s hope it’s lower but prepare as if you’re right or worse), the infectious nature, the problems they’re having in Italy, and the like. My comment was merely that unless China is feeding the world a complete line of BS about this (not entirely implausible), it’s remarkable that the 2800 deaths reported a few weeks ago haven’t exploded to tens of thousands. Either they’re lying their pants off, or what they’re doing with quarantines, treatment, and the like is working.

    And that gives me a deal of hope; I’m not a guy who can gin up test kits, create a vaccine, or whatever on the medical side (that’s the role of my nursing student daughters and my future son-in-law working on this sort of thing), but I can stock up my house (lessee…TP, flour, eggs, wine….), mitigate opportunities for transmission (curl up with book and glass of wine, work from home), and help others cope.


  8. I emailed our pastor about my concern with having communion this Sunday. We pass the plates, but it is too easy to touch another piece of cracker or cup. I sent him some suggestions and he said he’d take it up with the elders. We already have one person in our church who has let all of us know she will not be going out anywhere (her husband will run errands for her) because her immune system is quite weak. Personally, I could use a day to catch up on the sleep lost from the time change last week, but I’m on the worship team this week.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I think churches can set a good example to a watching world by not panicking, by showing discernment with the overflow of information (and disinformation) in the media, and by caring for fellow believers in the event the virus does massively spread amongst the general population. There are several hundred cases within a radius of a couple of hundred miles from where I live.

    The word that comes to mind is sobriety. I wonder if in the aftermath of this latest outbreak a time of reflection on reaping what you have sown would be wise. For example, in the UK the systemic underfunding of the healthcare system whilst lavishing money on a nuclear capability. Allowing the rich to buy their way out of insufficient resources and sending the poor empty away.

    Personally I do not see this outbreak as the judgement of God, but it is an example of living in a fallen world. (I have heard of prophecy that God is sending fear across Europe, which I would imagine could be possible, but I am exceptionally wary of modern claims to prophecy.)

    Primarily this could be an evangelistic opportunity. Not, I hasten to add, in a Jack Chick booklet style, or foolish and tactless claims about God’s wrath or judgement. But we live with a generation in the West many (but not all) of whom seem to think a long life is something you can take for granted, indeed is a kind of right. Who are narcissistic, preoccupied either with self-fulfillment or the accumulation of wealth, or causes that are of a more transient and often unrighteous nature.

    The Christian church knows that Jesus rose from the dead, that God has commanded all men everywhere to repent, and above all it is appointed unto man to die once and after that the judgment. My dad used to quote that a lot. Every single one of us has that appointment and it is absolutely unavoidable. The most important question in life is whether we are reconciled to and ready to meet this righteous God.

    The thought of this should be sobering for both believer and unbeliever alike. I have certainly found it so. What have I done and what am I doing with my life. Having grandchildren, the things you want to do in retirement – nothing wrong with these at all or wanting a long life – but you cannot take it for granted. Death is still the last enemy, and there is nothing unspiritual about not looking forward to it when it comes.

    I hope this will not be misunderstood as a glib call to use this outbreak for glib Christian ‘witnessing’. I do have in mind that after the Norwegian terrorist murdered 77 people the Norwegians flocked back to the churches they otherwise ignored (9/11 in the States too?), and I wonder just what they might have been told when they got there. Perhaps the churches themselves are unsure that they have anything meaningful to say about the great issues of life and death, whilst worrying about nuances of the Greek, ordaining unbelief, or coping with climate change, as though that is what makes them relevant.


  10. Well, our first cases came on here and just got notice church is going ‘facebooklive’ sunday instead of in person.


  11. To answer the question, how should churches minister in the middle of Coronavirus.

    A few ideas:

    -Stop shaming people for not wanting to go to church or for not going.

    (A lot of online denominations and churches I’ve seen the last few years have spent a lot of time writing blog posts shaming and criticizing anyone who doesn’t attend a brick and mortar. Time to stop that.)

    Also, some of those same groups have been highly critical of folks who get companionship and what not online, via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

    Well, now that most of us have no choice BUT to gather online so we don’t spread the virus, their previous criticisms of going online seem ten times more hollow.

    I saw a cartoon the other day that had a guy in PJs doing a tele-conference from his home office over the internet, and he was thinking to himself,
    “I guess all those in person meetings really COULD have been done over e-mail after all.”

    -Yeah, that is applicable to a lot of church services, as well.

    -Stop holding church services during the outset of the pandemic.

    (Seems obvious, but in recent days, there have been news headlines of church pastors who refuse to shutter and say other churches who do are “pansies.”

    And, as I observed on Twitter, this is one outcome of Macho, Complementarianian, Toxic Masculinity, where male pastors think it’s “manly” to defy conventional wisdom and what health officials are saying in the news about the importance of social distancing.

    This doesn’t make you rugged, it makes you look foolish.

    Furthermore, you are going to be responsible for spreading the virus, which will put other people at risk…

    And most folks who go to church in person these days skew older, and the authorities keep saying that by and large, older folks are the most vulnerable to the virus.)

    -Meet people’s emotional and practical needs

    Offer to run errands, if needed for elderly shut-ins, and maybe any one of any age who lives alone (such as single adults, widowers, the divorced).

    Maybe go to the grocery store for them, if they cannot order online and have stuff sent to their house.

    Mow their lawn for them if they are too frail or sick to do so.

    Phone them and let them discuss their worries and concerns, with no theologizing or lecturing from you about any of it – just listen and say, “I see.”

    This is especially important for folks who, even prior to the virus, had mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders or depression.


  12. And speaking of mental health related issues,
    I started a blog post the other day where I’ve collected several links to articles that either offer advice on how to cope with depression and anxiety via the pandemic, or how to avoid falling into anxiety or depression.

    Some of the articles in the post I’ve linked to (with excerpts) merely discuss mental health in this context, while some of the material I’ve linked to offer practical steps a person can take to combat mental health problems:

    _Mental Health in the Midst of Coronavirus (Resources and More) – specifically in regards to Anxiety and Depression_

    If I come across more articles about mental health in regards to Covid 19, I am thinking about starting a second post about it, because that first one is already pretty long.


  13. If I come across more articles about mental health in regards to Covid 19

    I didn’t check your list, DAisy, but Washington Post has had several good articles on this, one on change in routine being stressful (article name something about ‘from a psychologist), and one on staving off loneliness.


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