God bless you …but please don’t shake my hand

| September 20, 2009

Like other places where folks gather regularly, churches could become exchange centers for the H1N1, or swine flu, virus. However, an informal survey of East County congregations show churches are taking steps to decrease the potential for becoming pandemic-promoters.

Linde Eidenberg, parish nurse at Trinity Lutheran Church, 507 W. Powell Blvd., notes her health ministries committee addressed the pandemic at its most recent meeting, and published information encouraging church members to get the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available next month.

“We are providing hand sanitizers in every pew, in every classroom, and where coffee and goodies are served each Sunday,” she said. “I am in the process of ordering wall-mounted sanitizers to place at our entrances.”

Like many churches, Trinity’s services involve handshakes and handholding, she said, noting the congregation is being encouraged to use the hand sanitizers after these practices before coming forward for communion, where they receive the bread which they dip into the wine or grape juice chalice.

“Take everyday actions to stay healthy,” the committee has told church members. “Remain at home if you have any flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, fatigue, chills, etc. Wash your hands frequently and/or use hand sanitizers when washing is not available. Cough or sneeze into your elbow. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth – germs spread that way. Carrying small hand sanitizers in your pocket or purse is helpful.”

Other than signs encouraging everyone to be diligent about washing their hands, St. Henry Catholic Church, 346 N.W. First St., “has not made any changes at this time,” Dodi Baker, parish business manager, noted.

Sara Wise, director of liturgy, added that when news of the virus first made headlines last spring, the church, following an archdiocesan recommendation, briefly discontinued the practice of parishioners holding hands during prayer.

The church also discontinued offering communion wine from a chalice to everyone as well as discontinued the distribution of communion bread on people’s tongues.

As of this time, however, “each individual is encouraged to do what is most comfortable for them.”

Wood Village Baptist Church, 23601 W. Arata Road, will install touch-free hand sanitizers at key locations “throughout the campus,” Pastor Bill Ehmann said.

At Highland Community Church, 4100 S.E. 182nd Ave., “we are taking an educational approach to the issue,” Pastor Al Cushway said.

Sunday School children are taken for a hand washing before class begins, he noted, adding “We are counseling that if people even feel ill, to stay home and if necessary to keep children home.

“Normally, our communion practices are not affected,” the minister said.

H1N1 warning

Richard Leman, an epidemiologist with the Oregon Public Health Division, said he has “not heard about particular issues with this infection in churches in (East County).”

Like church leaders, he urged everyone to gear themselves for a pandemic.

“Because … H1N1 is a new type of flu virus, few people have immunity to it,” he said. “That means many people could get sick in a very short time. If doctors, firefighters, police, or the people who keep the electricity flowing get sick and can’t do their jobs, that could mean that a lot of services we count on day to day could be disrupted.

“This is what could happen, but if we all take steps to prevent infection, we can slow the spread of flu and make these problems much less likely,” Leman said.



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Category: Public Health

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