Everyone is looking forward to getting back to normal and getting back to doing the things they were doing before COVID-19. Going back to your place of worship is high on most people’s to-do list. Will going back to my place of worship make me sick? Are our places of worship ready for their members?
I don’t want to cast your place of worship as a villain but there are a number hazards lurking in our places of worship that should be taken care of before they entertain members. Most houses of worship have a number of hazards that are lurking in the buildings. They include toxins, allergens, irritants, germs and now the COVID-19 virus. All of these hazards can make a house of worship unhealthy to attend.
Researchers tested samples of holy water from a number of churches and hospital chapels. The study found extremely high concentrations of heterotrophic plate counts, which is used to measure microorganisms such as bacteria, mold and yeast in water. The study also found signs of fecal contamination as well as staphylococcus and other bacteria. The likely source was worshippers’ hands.
If you want to anoint yourself with holy water dip only a finger, then only touch your forehead. Your risk is minimized as long as you avoid your lips and eye area. You should wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer as soon as possible afterward. If you have an infant that will be baptized make certain that all equipment to be used during the baptism is disinfected right before the service. Never drink communal water even if you see others drinking.
A lot of Christian denominations include a sacrament of communion in which wine and bread are shared. Often the members drink from a single large cup. Most officiates will wipe the rim with a cloth before serving the next person. This will reduce your chances of being contaminated with a cold virus, flu virus, oral herpes and some other viruses but it does not eliminate the risk. This also will not prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Some churches have started to use small individual cups. If your place of worship has not moved in this direction you should talk to the minister that is in charge about implementing this practice.
Some religions require head covering for their worshipers. Sometimes the members forget to bring them and are offered one they can use during the service. Shared head coverings can carry lice or other germs. If you must wear a head covering try to keep one in your car, briefcase or your coat pocket for those times you forget one.
Toxins are the last things you’d think would be a problem in your house of worship. There are toxins in most places that burn candles, oils and incense. Recent studies showed that after burning candles, oils and incense there was a higher concentration of toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs) in the air. These PAHs have been linked to the increased risk for lung cancer and other pulmonary diseases. The irritants in most candles, oils and incense can also trigger asthma attacks in susceptible people.
Mold isn’t limited to your house. Houses of worship are for the most part housed in older buildings. This makes them more susceptible to mold. Even newer building aren’t immune to mold. Plumbing leaks, poor insulation, large carpets that are shampooed frequently makes them the perfect place for mold. Some mold can trigger allergic reactions or asthma attacks in sensitive people. Ask your leaders to have your place of worship checked for mold.
If you are going back to your place of worship you should remember there is no cure for the COVID-19 virus now. The best way to combat the COVID-19 virus is to reduce your exposure. Our bodies fight off disease every minute of the day. You should look at your body as a fort that is being attacked every minute of the day. We are not defenseless. We do have weak spots but not weak enough to put us in dire straits. We do have to keep our defenses at or close to 100%.
Good nutrition, sleep, stress reduction, exercise and mental health are even more important. There is no way to be 100% infection free. There are some things you can do to reduce your risk:
• Maintain a balance diet.
• Get enough sleep.
• Exercise for 30 minutes every day.
• Keep your hands away from your nose, ears, mouth and eyes.
• Wash your hands often.
• Stop smoking.
• Disinfect your house. Wash children’s toys periodically.
• Stay away from sick people.
• Plan your day.
• Avoid over crowding.
• Wear a mask.
• Isolate if you become sick.
Some things your house of worship can do:
• Put more space between chairs and encourage bigger seating gaps in pews.
• All church workers should wash their hands fanatically, wear masks, and maintain good personal hygiene.
• Try discouraging people with any sickness in their household from coming to their place of worship.
• Have hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes on hand. Keep all hand sanitizer out of the reach of children. Keep hand sanitizers away from fire or flame.
• Have regular scheduled cleanings of all areas.
• Hold services outside.
• Change air filters.
• Ventilate the building. Don’t block air vents.
• Develop contact tracing program.
• Check everyone entering the building.
• Ask worshipers not to use heavily scented powders, perfumes, hair sprays, deodorants and aftershave.
• Launder items such as drapes and linens (if possible) according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Use the warmest appropriate water setting and dry items completely.