Greetings in the Name of Our Lord, Jesus Christ!
You are likely aware that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) gave a press conference updating the American public on the current status of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Among the messages the CDC shared was a warning that the coronavirus is extremely likely to spread in communities across the U.S. and that individuals, schools, and businesses should be taking steps to not only prevent, but also prepare for the spread of the virus.
While things like the coronavirus can cause fear, it is important for us to remember whose we are and whom we serve. The Lord God has not given us spirits of fear. As you talk to your congregation and schools about preparing for the coronavirus, be sure to emphasize that God is always in control. As you prepare, keep in mind the community you serve and plan for how your church and school can serve your community if needed. It is at times of greatest need where the Christian church can really shine and share the Gospel with those outside the walls of the church building while serving your community.
The Southern District recognizes that the threat of coronavirus has created widespread concern across congregations and schools. The idea of a widespread virus is understandably a scary one for every community. I wanted to take this opportunity to share some information that may be helpful as you consider your own next steps.
First, to be clear, the United States is not currently facing a coronavirus pandemic. A pandemic occurs when a disease is spreading diffusely across a large region (or multiple regions). The CDC's message is intended to encourage organizations to begin thinking about how they will respond if and when the situation escalates beyond what we are facing right now.
We know most of you have already been thinking about this as a community and are taking extra steps at your congregations and schools to prevent the spread of infection. This is a critical first step. As you think about your community's actions in preparation for an escalation of the current situation, here are some additional steps we recommend taking:
- Continue enforcement of basic hygiene protocols - That means making sure that everyone is washing their hands, covering their coughs and sneezes, and staying home if they notice symptoms.
- Share a "heads-up" message with families about what you're doing to prevent and prepare
- Develop a document, especially for schools and early childhood development centers articulating your future plans to ensure everyone is on the same page - If and when the situation does escalate, it is imperative that you are able to put your plans into action quickly.
We've received one specific question quite a bit from schools over the past 24 hours that we wanted to address directly:
Should we purchase N95 masks for all staff and students on campus?
We know that many of you will be thinking about N95 masks or similar face coverage. While we certainly won't stop you from buying them, it is important to know that these are not a particularly effective strategy for protecting individuals from contracting the coronavirus. Instead, follow general health and wellness best practices, with a particular focus on thorough hand washing. You can go to the CDC webpage page on Coronavirus Prevention & Treatment strategies for more info.
Other questions may be answered on the WHO's "Myth Busters" page on the coronavirus.
As a reminder - handling the spread of a serious contagion like the coronavirus is primarily a job for public health agencies. Continue to actively monitor directives from the WHO, CDC, and other governmental organizations like your local department of health. Remember that if you feel like you're doing all that you can, you probably are.
More information will be made available as the situation warrants. For now, follow the common sense guidelines of good basic hygiene, do not panicky, and look for ways to serve your community for the sake of the Gospel.
Your Servant In Christ's Mission,
Rev. Eric Johnson
President, Southern District LCMS