A Positive COVID Test at Church

A Positive COVID Test at Church: Now What?

What happens if you have a positive case of COVID-19 in someone who has attended your church service? Emmanuel Church Canterbury have been dealing with precisely that scenario.

The call came in on Wednesday afternoon.

A member at Emmanuel Church Canterbury had received a positive coronavirus test after attending the service the previous Sunday morning.

The church meets in a local school and the man who tested positive is part of the set-up team. That means he had worked with a small group to unpack and set out all the PA and musical equipment to enable the service to take place.

So, what happened next?

At this point, the elders at Emmanuel started to consider the following questions:

  • Had Test and Trace been in touch with the church?
  • Who would need to self-isolate?
  • What should they do about church this Sunday?
  • How could they pastorally care for their church family?

While a number of FIEC churches have seen cases of COVID-19 during lockdown, it’s the first instance we have been told of where there has been a positive case amongst a church that has started physical gatherings again.

Self-isolation

Test and Trace contacted the church on Thursday and were able to speak to those who had close contact with the man who tested positive. Now the church had to think about its next steps.

David Gould is one of the elders at Emmanuel and is also a GP. He says that despite a robust risk assessment being adopted by the church, there is no way to eliminate the risk of COVID-19 completely.

“Even though all of the rules were followed, and we carried out a full risk assessment, I'm concerned about pre-symptomatic people attending church and the problem multiplying.

“Test and trace have contacted all those who met with our positive COVID-19 case and they are all in self-isolation. There was no requirement for the whole church to self-isolate because the brother who tested positive was careful to maintain social distancing and hand hygiene throughout.”

Pastoral responsibility

Under the Government guidelines, there would be nothing to stop Emmanuel Canterbury continuing to meet in person, but David says their pastoral responsibility to their congregation as well as their witness to the community has given them second thoughts. He added:

“We have decided to move back online for the next two weeks. We naturally feel upset to do this, but it feels like the right decision.

“In hiring the school hall, we wanted to reinforce with the school the impression they hopefully already have: that we are taking the risk of spreading Covid-19 seriously. We didn't really want to put the school on the spot and leave them with a decision about whether or not to allow us back.

“Another reason is that while mitigation measures are effective at reducing the risk of spreading coronavirus, they don't eliminate the risk. We could see a scenario where there would be a chance of seeding the virus into our local population because of the nature of the way we meet.

“We concluded that just asking vulnerable people not to come would send the message that the meeting is more dangerous this week than it was last week, and would undermine the growing confidence people have in the gathering together.

“So, in summary we felt that two weeks off would be more likely to preserve confidence, because the congregation can see that there is a clear adherence to government guidance, and where there is doubt, we apply caution rather than take risk.”

A wisdom call

Emmanuel Church are not saying that this is the best way to deal with a positive test, but rather it is the way they wanted to act, in accordance with their risk assessment. David concluded:

“This was a wisdom call, not a right or wrong thing. I think it was a mixture of our responsibility to the school, the public, and an understanding that the guidelines are a best attempt to prevent a local outbreak.

“The key principle of our risk assessment team was that we'd go for caution rather than risk where there was doubt. Because we hire a school, the risk is not just to health or life, but to the daily routines of parents at the school gate when the class gets sent home. Disruption is something in the next few months that everyone will want to minimise.”

Article image by Russell Tate for United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash.

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