Christian leaders in the country have submitted guidelines to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19 in churches as they push for the government to lift the ban on church services across the country.
President Nana Akufo-Addo placed a ban on all social gatherings including church services as part of the measures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Churches have, thus, been closed for about a month and half.
Despite the rising cases of COVID-19 in the country, the Christian leaders in a joint statement said the Church is ready and has the capacity to comply with COVID-19 pandemic safety protocols.
The Christian leaders said they have identified the risk areas in their churches and will put in place the necessary measures to keep the congregants safe.
Among the measures include: compulsory handwashing and sanitisation before entering the church, social distancing in seating arrangements, special sitting arrangement for the aged, no handshakes and the compulsory wearing of facemasks.
Below is the full statement from the church leaders:
PREPARATION TOWARDS REOPENING OF CHURCHES IN GHANA: GUIDELINES TO MITIGATE POTENTIAL SPREAD OF COVID-19
Submitted by: Heads of the Christian Ecumenical Bodies in Ghana
As the COVID-19 pandemic exacts global toll on lives and livelihoods, Ghana’s case count keeps increasing steadily since the first index case was reported on March 12, 2020, and government’s response towards slowing and stopping the transmission, government issued several preventive protocols (social distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene practices), partial lockdown in epicenters, and imposed several restrictions on public gatherings including temporary suspension of communal Church activities. Impliedly, the suspension of religious gathering constitutes a form of lockdown, owing to the Church’s inability to congregate for communal worship. And following the President’s meeting with heads of churches and ecumenical councils on April ??, 2020 at the Jubilee House where His Excellency the President charged the Christian leaders to develop modalities and guidelines to mitigate the spread of the virus should the ban on public gathering be lifted, the Christian leaders developed these intervention strategies.
In assessing the Church’s readiness and capacity to comply with COVID-19 pandemic safety protocols, it is important to note that addressing CV-19 “requires a whole-of-government and whole-of-society response.” The Church being a major stakeholder is indispensable in the State’s overall COVID-19 containment and mitigation strategies. Given that 71% of Ghanaians identify as Christians, the Church, with its wide social network, access to communities, captive audience, unquestioned authority, and influential actors of public support for government measures is best placed to help in numerous ways with educating, counseling and sustaining the populace.
1. GUIDELINES TO MITIGATE POTENTIAL SPREAD OF COVID-19
As the Church prepares to come back for communal worship, the tables below show the potential risk areas and what to do to mitigate potential spread.
1. Entrance points to churches
2. Door handles
2. Utility areas in the church
1. WC handles
2. Washroom door handles
3. Seating arrangements in the church
1. Close seating arrangement in the church that breaches social distancing regulations
2. Group sitting e.g. the choir
4. Nature of church building
1. Poorly ventilated churches – having few and small windows
2. Entirely glass windows that impede free flow of air
5. Nature of service
1. Handshakes during welcome sessions
2. Singing groups congregating at one side and singing
3. Group meetings – Sunday schools where teachers speak to small groups. Those in the front roll are at risk
4. Communion services where cups are handed to individuals
5. Communion service where many people drink from one cup
6. Communion services where packaged loaves are handed to individuals
Devices and items
1. Microphones used commonly by more than one person, faucets, telephones
2. Money handled by more than one person through giving offering and tithes
Vestries & Pastors’ offices
1. Door and seat handles
3. Poorly ventilated rooms
4. Common surfaces including Pastors’ tables
SPECIFIC RISK AREAS
INTERVENTIONS TO PUT IN PLACE
1. Church Entrances and Lobbies
1. Hand washing: Make available hand-washing materials for all to wash hands before entering the church or touching rails, door handles and pillars. A running tap or Veronica bucket should be put at all entrances for every church member to wash hands before entering the church. Handsfree soap dispenser must be fitted to avoid cross-contamination.
2. Sanitisation: Make hand-sanitiser (preferably a dispenser) available at near church entrances, outside washrooms, pastors’ offices, vestries and lobbies for members to sanitize their hands.
3. Enforce hand washing and sanitization: have one person (usher) dedicated to the entrance to enforce the above, making sure that every church member at least, washes the hands for 20 seconds under running water and also sanitizes the hands after washing. Enforcement is more important than instituting the measures in order to achieve sustained compliance. In addition, churches should put up signs reminding people to wash hands, cough/sneeze into their elbows and remind people from the pulpit/stag
2. Utility areas
1. Clean utility areas, surfaces and items touched by different people routinely. Preferably clean surfaces every 1-2 hours depending on utilization. Door handles, WC handles, faucets, microphones. Seat arms/handles should be disinfected before and after service for the next session.?
3. Seating in churches
1. Observe social distancing through seating arrangements: seating should be rearranged to allow social distancing rules. Contiguous seats should be 2 arms-length reach (2m). So should be the distance before and after one seat to ensure that cough, sneeze and talking from one church member does not predispose the neighbours to the virus particularly from asymptomatic carriers.
2. Provide separate seating areas for the aged and families.
3. Organise churches services in sessions: because of the need for social distancing as described above, there will invariably be the need to organize churches in more than one session with at least one hour in between services.
Wear facemasks: All citizens/church members including pastors, are to wear facemasks to enter churches. It is particularly important for those who will engage by talking e.g. pastors, Sunday school teachers etc. The mask will prevent droplet infections from getting to the others. For all others, it will also prevent them getting droplets from others in the church. Masks are to be kept on until one comes back home. This will reduce the risk of spread from asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
4. Nature of building
1. All windows should be opened fully during church services to allow good ventilation. There should be no use of air conditioners. This will diffuse and reduce the concentration of the virus (should there be anyone infected) in the room.
5. Nature of service
1. All handshakes are to be avoided in churches during this period of COVID-19. This leads to cross-contamination and spread of the virus.
2. All who speak in churches must wear N95 facemask during service. This will reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others.
3. Singers/Choristers: observe social distancing and also avoid second row of singers. As much as possible prerecorded music may be used.
4. Communion Service: Offer individual cups for communion. Reduce hand-to-hand transmission by providing individual bread and cup servings. Hand hygiene and food safety precautions must strictly be observed by those who prepare these communions.
5. Giving/collection of offering and tithes: It is advisable not to pass offering bowls and baskets around. Items that are frequently handled can be sources of contaminants for the COVID-19 virus. The virus can be retained on the offering/tithe bowl for hours and can be passed on to others. The best option will be for a stationary bowl with a wide opening to be put in front or entry point where people do not need to handle the bowl before putting in their offering and tithes. Where practicable, churches should advice their members to use mobile money for offerings and tithes as this means of giving reduces the risk of transmission
6. Education on Covid-19
1. Communicate with and educate church members, and persons in the communities that the church is located
2. Select members in the church should be trained and be made responsible for COVID-19 education and coordination of resources to help the church.
3. The church should mobilize resources to help individuals in need including church health facilities
Most Rev Dr Paul Boafo (Chairman, Christian Council of Ghana)
Rev Prof Yaw Frimpong Manso (President, Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council)
Most Rev Phillip Naameh (President, Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference)
Archbishop Nicholas Duncan Williams (President, National Association of Charismatic and Christian Churches)