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How Safe Is Church In a Pandemic?



"My mother is very religious. Today, she turned 92 years old and is in relatively good health. Mother’s church has continued to hold services during the COVID-19 pandemic as though nothing is going on. They make feeble efforts at distancing, no masks are required, and people shake hands or even hug. This situation is just not right. I think that because it is a church, they believe they are protected from this horrible virus and I have not been able to convince my mother that she should stay home right now. I am looking for solutions."



As a health care provider, I struggle to understand any organization that does not have a very strict COVID protection policy in place that must be followed 100% of the time. Restaurants, stores, churches, or any organization where people gather needs a stringent policy.

With that said, I also understand how very difficult it is to keep people apart. We even struggle in health care applying the rules within our own teams. We remove chairs, we assign “hall monitors,” and we repeat over and over our policies. People are still people, and getting close to each other to communicate is in our nature. Reminders and re-education on a daily basis seem to be necessary to keep policies at the forefront of peoples’ minds. 

At this time, it is best for all of us to avoid large gatherings of any kind. The older you are, the greater the risk. The statistics are clear on the results of a COVID infection in older adults. They have the worst outcomes. It would be good for your mother to understand that a COIVD infection could be fatal for her and that how she interacts with others will determine her risk.

Now, your mother may feel that church is a safe place, being close to God. There is no evidence to validate such an opinion at the present though. She needs to avoid all large, close groups of people, until the time she becomes vaccinated for this virus. There is really no sure way to protect her 100% unless she stays home. I am sure you realize that her odds to avoid COVID decrease with every exposure to other humans. The more individuals she comes in contact with the more likely she is to contract the disease.

Some think that wearing a mask is enough, but that may not be the case. Factors that increase risk include air exchange indoors, amount of time exposed to others, and what surfaces are touched. While she can take steps to protect herself and stay away from others, there is no guarantee that it will be enough in a gathering of people. 

As the holidays approach, this conversation may become more difficult with your mother and frankly for everyone this year. My recommendation for the short-term is to be safe and only gather again when this pandemic is over.