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  • Writer's pictureDerek Allen

Five Lessons I Learned from A Covid-19 Spike at Our Church

In March, April, and May, our church staff braced for a wave of Covid-19 cases to sweep through our church family. It never happened. In fact, for the first three months of the Covid-19 outbreak, our church family of about 1500 only experienced a handful of coronavirus cases. As far as we know, none of those cases were spread at one of our events. Two weeks ago, that all changed.

Like most churches, we moved to an online-only format in March, but as soon as our governor and state department of health gave us the green light, we started meeting in socially distanced services. A few weeks into those services, we had a coronavirus scare, but it was short-lived and impotent. One of our staff members was exposed to someone who later tested positive for Covid-19, and our entire staff was with the exposed staff member in a two-hour staff meeting a few days later. The exposed staff member tested positive so we had the rest of our staff tested. Everyone else tested negative. No one, including the one staff member who tested positive, showed any symptoms. We breathed a collective sigh of relief, and many of us, including myself, came away from that experience more convinced than before that the only real threat we faced from Covid-19 was the threat of our services being shut down again. Then it happened. The first phone call came on a Friday from a staff member. “Bad news. I’ve got a fever, body aches, and 6 out of the 11 symptoms on the CDC’s checklist.” The next week was filled with phone calls and text messages about symptoms and tests and who had been exposed to who. By midweek, we learned that the virus, which would eventually work its way through about half of our staff, had spread to some of our volunteers. Almost two weeks after that first phone call, we are still waiting to find the end of the virus’ spread among our church family. This has been extremely challenging as a pastor and leader, and I hope I can share my experience with others who might learn from our mistakes dealing with Covid-19. Here are five lessons I learned. 1. There is a second wave. While I’m not going to get into the debate about the national and international second wave of Covid-19 cases, the second wave is real for our church family. In fact, this is really the first wave. We didn’t see anything like this in March, April, and May, but what we are watching now can only be described as a wave of infections spreading through our church. 2. It happens fast. One week from the time I received the first phone call reporting symptoms, we were aware of more than a dozen people showing symptoms. What was even more shocking was that we could track four generations of transmission from the original person. We are two weeks in, and the numbers are growing at a faster rate now than they were last week. 3. Assume every sniffle is Covid-19, and act quickly. Like most churches and organizations, we had been following the recommended steps of isolation, testing, and notifying those who have been in contact with anyone who tests positive. We’ve learned that the tests take too long, and false positives are possible along with false negatives. We’ve experienced both. We’ve also learned that most Covid-19 cases mimic other common illnesses and even allergies in the early stages. The phrase, “I thought it was just allergies” has been heard all too often among our staff in the past two weeks. At first, we followed the health department guideline of quarantining anyone who had been within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes of someone who is showing symptoms. Now, we quarantine anyone who even walked by the same building as someone with symptoms. If we had acted quickly to quarantine the entire staff, we would have cut our church-wide cases by at least 50%. 4. Covid-19 is a serious illness. Some of our staff experienced a day or two of mild symptoms, but several are still dealing with severe fever, fatigue, breathing problems, and other symptoms. It has been a harrowing and demoralizing journey for our team, and the first symptom reporter has just started feeling some relief in the past few hours. Thankfully, we only had one short hospitalization, but please don’t let that keep you from taking this seriously. Remember, we are less than two weeks into this, and at least one staff member is dealing with complications that could result in hospitalization. Hospitalizations asides, it has been heartbreaking to watch those I love and lead suffering intensely. 5. Isolation and social distancing work. I’m convinced that one of the reasons the virus hasn’t spread faster and farther is that we have been following procedures designed to isolate sick people and keep everyone else socially distanced. At the same time, we had gotten comfortable, and on a few occasions, we were a little lax in those policies. We can trace almost all of the infections back to one of those times. The physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual impact of Covid-19 is significant. We’ve all blamed ourselves in some ways, and the last two weeks have presented new challenges daily. We trust the Lord is working through our suffering for His eternal glory and our eternal good, and perhaps part of that good and glory is that you can learn from our journey.

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Derek Allen
Derek Allen
Jul 02, 2020

Clifton,


We've left the specific details up to those who are infected and their doctors, but we have required all staff to follow CDC quarantine guidelines through the end of this week. Some of us have left the house once or twice without any contact with others. I have watched two baseball games from behind the outfield fence, and some of our staff have needed to be on campus for short periods of time to pick up something, check the mail, etc. We've coordinated those visits that so no two people are on campus at once. Other than that, we are all staying home. Honestly, those who have been sick have not felt like going anywhere outside of the couch…

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Clifton Worley
Clifton Worley
Jul 02, 2020

Can you please share what particular procedures you have followed to isolate sick people that was mentioned above?

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Derek Allen
Derek Allen
Jul 02, 2020

Jason, as soon as we knew the virus was spreading, we canceled in-person worship gatherings. We have since canceled all in-person activities through July in order to hopefully head off any further spread. We are using one part of the stage for music (one musician only) and one part of the stage for the sermon. The musician and preacher (myself) are never near each other. We are using a family to fun audiovisual, and they stay in the balcony.

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Jason Thrash
Jason Thrash
Jul 02, 2020

What did you guys do about services after the outbreak?

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Derek Allen
Derek Allen
Jul 01, 2020

Shay,

Other than the preacher (me), a few musicians, and our singers, all of our staff and volunteers were wearing masks during our worship gatherings. Among the congregation, it was mixed. We've followed the "strongly recommended but not required" approach.


During office hours, we have not required masks, but we have isolated everyone in their offices. The transmission times seem to have occurred among staff when people spent just a few minutes with each other.


Regarding staff meetings, there are two in question--one was almost one month ago, and we did not know that one of our staff members had been exposed a few days before. That staff member tested positive a few days later, but no other staff members…

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