It’s a sad and unfortunate result of the coronavirus outbreak, but you should not attend in-person church services, for the time being, the Alabama Department of Public Health advises.
This guidance is true especially if your church congregation is larger than 25 people or if you’re an older person, the population most vulnerable to adverse health effects.
Earlier this week, Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Public Health issued a statewide order prohibiting non-work related gatherings of 25 people or more, and any size gathering that cannot maintain a consistent six-foot distance between people.
“We really believe that the 25-person rule should be followed for the purposes of reducing the risk of transmission of this virus,” said Dr. Karen Landers, the state’s assistant health officer. She said it’s also true for churches.
So far, more than 300,000 people worldwide have been confirmed to have the virus. Experts believe far more are infected but haven’t been tested. There are more than 26,500 cases in the United States. Only Italy and China have had more confirmed cases.
As of Saturday evening, 131 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the state. Jefferson County has reported the most cases.
Those who are older than 65—a large part of the state’s religious community—are at particular risk of dangerous and deadly health outcomes if they contract the virus, but younger people are not immune. Church services often put younger people and older people in the same close quarters.
In Georgia, several people at the same church became infected with the virus. The church later shut down as it tried to stop the spread of the virus, but one of the congregants, a 65-year-old, died from respiratory failure caused by the virus.
Jefferson County have more stringent rules. Gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited. The rules apply to churches, the Jefferson County Department of Health tweeted.
IMPORTANT REMINDER: CHURCHES SHOULD NOT BE PHYSICALLY GATHERING FOR WORSHIP SERVICES. THE JEFFERSON COUNTY HEALTH OFFICER’S ORDERS PROHIBIT GATHERING OF TEN OR MORE PEOPLE. THIS IS A LEGALLY ENFORCEABLE ORDER. NOW IS A CRITICAL TIME TO PREVENT SPREAD OF COVID-19.
— JCDH (@jcdhtweets) March 22, 2020
Avoiding large gatherings like church services and close person-to-person contact is the best way to prevent contracting the virus and to prevent spreading it.
“We would ask people to consider rescheduling or delaying events if that’s possible to do so. We certainly understand that religious events, in particular, are so important to so many people in our state,” Alabama State Health Officer, Dr. Scott Harris, said earlier this week. “If there’s a possibility for meeting through webcams or video conferencing or teleconferencing, we would encourage people to do that, particularly our seniors who are most vulnerable for the disease.”
Some of the state’s churches are moving online during the pandemic including the state’s largest church, the Church of the Highlands, which organized massive testing sites in Jefferson County this week. Others have canceled or altered their service plans.
Bishop Robert Baker, of the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham, canceled all masses through April 4, and Archbishop Thomas Rodi, of the Diocese of Mobile, has similarly canceled all worship services.
As the pandemic continues, churches are moving toward online services. The Alabama Baptist is providing tips for churches and organizations that want to live stream their services. The Humanitarian Disaster Institute also produced a coronavirus preparation guide for churches.