This is not a Bible Bite. In the public interest – in an effort to reach as many as possible, the mailing list for subscribers to Bible Bites is being called into service to distribute a statement from well-known Christian medical doctors regarding COVID-19.
The number who die each year from the seasonal flu is incredibly high. However, experts are now saying the lethal outcome of the Coronavirus is 10 times higher and less is known about it. As of now, no antibiotics are effective in treating those who have to be hospitalized.
Advice for Assembly Gatherings During the COVID-19 Pandemic
David Vallance MD (Livonia, Michigan), Scott Yaekle MD (Livonia, Michigan), Michael Renzi DO (Barrington, NJ), Ricardo Castro MD (Santiago, Chile), Alexander Higgins MD (Barrington, NJ), Lindsay Parks DO (Indiana, PA)
March 11, 2020
Many assembly Christians have had serious concerns about the COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 (2019 Novel Coronavirus) pandemic, which as of this writing has been confirmed in almost 100 countries, 38 US states, and Canada. The situation is rapidly evolving, and public health authorities are not sure whether the outbreak can be contained by quarantine, or how long the pandemic will last. As of March 2, the World Health Organization has estimated the death rate worldwide at 3.4% (by comparison, the death rate from influenza in the U.S. is 0.1%).
While there has been much confusion about this virus, including misinformation, and media hype and hoax, the physician-authors of this article take this VERY seriously. The pandemic is spreading, and we all feel that this could be very significant, AND widespread.
The Christian has a resource that is unmatched- faith in the God Who controls the universe. He and He alone is our Rock, our Refuge, our place of safety and security. His promises never fail. He knows all about this, and this has not taken Him by surprise. Prayer, trust in His Almighty hand, and intercession for those affected should be our primary and constant priority.
Nahum 1:7 “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knoweth them that trust in Him.”
COVID-19 arose near Wuhan, China. It is “novel,” meaning that no humans have been exposed to it before, and thus no one has immunity to it. The infection typically begins with a sore throat, sinus congestion, and high fever (over 102 F, or 38.9 C). A deep cough from bronchial or lung infection may ensue. Nausea and vomiting are common. While healthy people usually recover, those with chronic lung disease, heart disease, or compromised immune systems (e.g. from chemotherapy) may succumb to the pneumonia and its complications (e.g. respiratory failure, kidney failure). The elderly are at greatest risk; thankfully, children have been relatively spared.
In order to check the spread of the virus, government officials are imposing quarantines, which may affect some believers. The best defense against contracting the illness is to avoid contact with infected people, to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly (at least 20 seconds with soap), and to use sanitizing wipes on your hands and on surfaces that are frequently touched.
No vaccine or specific treatment is yet available, although some drugs for influenza (a similar virus) are being evaluated. Antibiotics are not effective unless a secondary bacterial infection develops. Those who develop symptoms should receive supportive therapy (e.g. acetaminophen for fever over 102 F / 38.9 C, and Gatorade for dehydration from fever and vomiting). It is important not to spread the illness—if you are sick, stay home. If you develop a deep cough or shortness of breath, seek medical help.
Many believers are asking what assemblies should do in public meetings to help curtail the spread of this infection. The following suggestions are made in good faith based on current evidence and are not meant to be definitive. Most are common-sense precautions to avoid spreading the virus.
- Wash your own hands often and thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
- Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizer (wipes or gels with at least 60% alcohol) at the door of the hall and use it liberally.
- Repeatedly wipe down all frequently touched surfaces—cellphones, door handles, countertops, keypads, etc.—with disposable wipes or the cleansing agents that are usually used for these surfaces.
- Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles.
- Try not to touch your face. The virus can enter through the mouth, nose, and eyes, and studies have shown that we touch our faces about 90 times a day.
- Do not greet one another with “an holy kiss,” as this will transmit the virus.
- Elbow bumps—or no physical contact at all—should substitute for handshakes.
- Stay home if you are sick and advise others to do the same.
- Always cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue or sleeve.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- The Centers for Disease Control does not recommend face masks to prevent infection. However, anyone who shows symptoms of COVID-19 should wear a mask to help prevent the spread of the disease to others, including family members.
- Anyone exposed to a confirmed case should avoid contact with other people for at least three weeks (this is the incubation period, the time between contracting the virus and actually developing symptoms of the illness).
What about holding assembly meetings if the COVID-19 virus is in your area? First, if the authorities advise against public meetings, we should comply as long as the recommendation remains in place. Otherwise, meetings can continue as usual, provided that we follow the above precautions.
The Scriptural practice of sharing the communal cup has raised concern. The alcohol in wine is not strong enough to be a disinfectant (alcohol must be 60% or 120 proof to kill viruses). In general, a person with a compromised immune system should receive the cup first, and a person who shows signs of infection should receive the cup last—or not at all. Further, individual wipes should be available so that believers may wipe the cup rim before drinking if they choose to do so.
More extreme measures may have to be considered by some assemblies, especially if authorities recommend them. Such measures might include having a brother with gloved hands bring the bread plate and offering basket to each individual, or use a squeeze bottle to decant a small measure of wine into a disposable cup held by each believer. These procedures would consume a lot of time in larger companies. Currently, it is likely sufficient to use hand sanitizer after touching a common plate, cup, or basket.
Visitors who come from areas where COVID-19 is endemic, or believers who return home after traveling to such areas, raise another concern. As noted, the incubation period can be as long as three weeks. Thus a person can be infected (and thus spread the virus to others) for up to three weeks before he or she becomes ill. The wisest course for a person coming from an endemic area would be to self-quarantine for at least two full weeks.
While these recommended policies are not strictly necessary to carry out in areas with no nearby cases of COVID-19, it may still be wise to adopt them until the pandemic is over. Each assembly’s policy should be left to the judgment of its overseers. With this threat as any other, we must look to the Lord for wisdom and protection and trust Him.
David Vallance MD (Livonia, Michigan)
Scott Yaekle MD (Livonia, Michigan)
Michael Renzi DO (Barrington, NJ)
Ricardo Castro MD (Santiago, Chile)
Alexander Higgins MD (Barrington, NJ)
Lindsay Parks DO (Indiana, PA)