Savannah Presbytery Recommendation to Continue Virtual Worship and other Church Activities
April 23, 2020
Dear Pastors, Clerks of Session, and Members of Savannah Presbytery,
With this week’s announcement by Governor Brian Kemp that churches may resume worship services this Sunday, we have come together to discern what guidance we might provide to the congregations of Savannah Presbytery.
On a Wednesday call with more than a dozen pastors from every district in our presbytery (representing both small and large churches), there was unanimous agreement that their congregations were not ready to take responsibility for the health risks that would come with opening our sanctuaries and meeting as a community. Many of our church members and pastors are either over 60 years of age or have health conditions that leave them compromised, and thus more susceptible to the severe consequences of infection. The federal guidelines informed by the CDC recommend that communities have a 14 day decline in COVID-19 cases. Georgia’s rate is still on the increase. One of our churches has already had to experience the ramifications of notifying congregation members that someone who had been in worship with them before the stay-at-home order had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
We applaud the efforts that our presbytery pastors and church leaders are making to continue to worship and “do church” remotely. We highly recommend that this continue and that church facilities remained closed. During this time of waiting, sessions should continue to explore how the CDC’s suggestions for mitigating health risks (i.e. numerical management, social distancing, increased attention to sanitation, wearing masks in public) would alter their “pre-pandemic” practices for gatherings on the church campus. A good resource for developing new and healthier practices is a blog article by Ken Braddy, the director of Sunday School for Lifeway Christian Resources, titled “24 Questions Your Church Should Answer Before People Return.” www.kenbraddy.com
Savannah Presbytery is a covenant community. We value a reformed heritage that looks after the needs and well-being of the “least of these” within the context of the covenant community. While we are not yet able to recommend a date in which we can once again worship as the Body of Christ gathered in one place, we look forward to rejoicing when all who are able can celebrate under one roof in our houses of worship. We will listen to the advice of the CDC and maintain contact with all of our churches as we look forward to safely meeting together in the near future.
May God bless you and your congregations during this unfamiliar and anxious time.
TE Alan Baroody, Transitional General Presbyter
TE Eric Beene, Acting Stated Clerk
RE Doty Dunn, Presbytery Moderator-Elect
TE Jeff Garrison, Council Chair
TE Andy Meeker, Committee on Ministry Chair
TE Deanie Strength, Presbytery Moderator
GENERAL INFO: The office is closed except for essential business and pastoral needs. If you are coming to the office, please call first. We are trying our best to keep our members and friends and the general public safe as we also strive to slow the speed of the infection rates of COVID-19.
We are currently implementing conference calling options so that upcoming church meetings can be done remotely. We have cancelled all non-essential meetings at the church.
Please let Pastor Jeff know if there are those who have needs that we, as the church, can help them meet. His direct number at church is 598-9605.
SUNDAY’S SERVICE: We will continue to hold abbreviated services that will be live-streamed. We also hope to put the service online in its entirety soon afterwards so that those who missed it at 10 AM will be able to watch the service. We encourage everyone to watch the service online from home. Please keep in touch as our plans may change as new guidelines from the CDC or state and local governments are released.
Please let us know how we might continue to be a church during this time. This is new ground for everyone and there may be things we have overlooked.
In your prayers, please remember to pray for:
- Our church and its leaders
- Those who have been infected with COVID-19
- Those who serve the public as medical professionals (Physicians, Nurses, First Responders, etc.)
- Our national, state, and local leaders
- Wisdom, patience, and understanding in an uncertain time
God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. -Psalm 46:1
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
(provided by CEMA)
Q: Do we have any cases here?
A: If/when we get a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19, we will let the public know. The Georgia Department of Public Health updates its website, dph.ga.gov, every day at noon with a map of lab-confirmed cases around the state of Georgia.
Q: What happens when we start getting cases?
A: Even if you are in a county with no confirmed case, don’t assume the virus is not present. Because testing has been limited, we may not have an accurate picture of the current level of infection across our area. That’s why we must all take measures to protect ourselves and others from spreading germs.
• Washing hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water. If you don’t have soap, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
• Stay home if you are sick.
• Regularly clean common surfaces such as doorknobs, countertops, computer keyboards, and light switches.
• Cover your cough with a tissue and throw the tissue away or cough into the crook of your elbow.
• Instead of shaking hands, consider a fist or elbow bump.
• Don’t share cups or eating utensils.
Q: Can I get tested for COVID-19 at the health department?
A: No. Local health departments cannot evaluate, test, or treat COVID-19.
Q: Who can get tested and where?
A: Right now, all tests for COVID-19 must be ordered by a physician. Federal and state agencies are working to expand access to testing, but currently testing supplies and laboratories are limited. That’s why testing must be prioritized. Not everyone should get tested. Clinicians use certain criteria to determine if testing is warranted.
Priorities for testing include:
• Hospitalized patients who have signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19
• Other symptomatic individuals such as older adults and individuals with chronic medical conditions or are immunocompromised
• Any persons who, within 14 days of showing symptoms, had close contact with a suspect or laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient, or who have a history of travel from affected geographic areas within 14 days of their symptom onset.
• Healthcare professionals who care for patients with COVID-19
Q: What if I have symptoms or think I have COVID-19 but don’t fall into a priority testing category?
A: We are still in flu and allergy season and several symptoms of COVID-19 are similar. If you have symptoms including fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, then you should stay home and away from others. You shouldn’t go outside your home except to get medical care but – and this is important – don’t seek medical care without calling the healthcare provider first. That will help the healthcare provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.
If you have symptoms:
• Stay in a specific room of the house and use a separate bathroom from others if you can.
• Don’t share personal items such as dishes, eating utensils, or bedding with others in your home and thoroughly wash those items with soap and water after they’ve been used.
• Use household cleaners to clean high-touch surfaces and areas – some examples include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, phones, and keyboards.
• While we don’t recommend facemasks for everyone, people who are sick should wear one when around other people. If the person who is sick can’t wear a facemask because, say, they have trouble breathing, then anyone who is in the room with the sick person should wear a facemask.
• And of course, the same basic hygiene recommendations still apply: Wash your hands, sneeze or cough into a tissue and throw the tissue away, regularly clean common surfaces in the home, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Keep in mind that there is no treatment for COVID-19 and people who are mildly ill may be able to isolate and care for themselves at home. Even with severe cases, the absence of a test does not delay treatment. Doctors can provide supportive care to ease symptoms, and this is done with or without a test.
Q: How many people are being tested?
A: We don’t know how many people are being tested. Commercial laboratories are not required to report the number of tests they’ve ordered; however, they MUST report any positive tests to public health.
Q: How will we know if people in our area are positive for COVID-19?
A: Laboratories must report positive tests to public health. If/when we are notified that we have lab-confirmed positive cases, we will let the public know through our website (GaCHD.org), media partners, social media outlets, communications through other community partners such as Emergency Management Agencies.
Q: Are there home testing kits available?
A: No. We understand people are concerned and that many individuals would like to be tested. Right now, the only way to get tested is for a physician to order the test. But again, if you have mild symptoms you should isolate yourself from others in your household and care for yourself at home. If your symptoms become worse, call a healthcare provider.
Q: What is social distancing?
A: Social distancing means minimizing contact with people. It also means that if you are near someone in public, try to stay at least 6 feet away. The less contact people have with one another means the less opportunity for the virus to spread. Slowing the spread of the virus means we can keep our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.
Q: Should I wear a facemask?
A: If you are sick, you should wear a facemask when you are around other people and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then you should do your best to cover your coughs and sneezes, and people who are caring for you should wear a facemask if they enter your room.
Q: Should I go to church/party/community gathering/bar?
A: Right now, federal and state guidelines recommend staying home if possible and limiting time in public places as precautions associated with social distancing. The more we use social distancing techniques, the more we reduce the risk of the virus spreading. This is especially important for older people and those with underlying health conditions who are most vulnerable to the virus.
Q: Where can I report Price Gouging?
A: On March 14, 2020, at 10:15 AM, Governor Kemp issued an Executive Order and declared a Public Health State of Emergency in the State of Georgia. In the Executive Order, the Governor recognized that it is necessary and appropriate to take action to protect the health, safety, and welfare of Georgia’s residents and visitors to ensure that COVID-19 remains controlled. He further ordered that during preparation, response and recovery activities for this Public Health Emergency, price gouging of goods and services necessary to support Public Health would be detrimental to the social and economic welfare of the citizens of this State. Accordingly, he enacted price gouging controls for the State of Georgia. If you see price gouging, please report it on this link: http://consumer.ga.gov/form/price-gouging/step1/price-gouging-form
State of Georgia Hotline
There is a state of Georgia hotline people can call with questions or if they think they may have been exposed: 1-844-442-2681
Again, if you believe you’re experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, please contact your primary care doctor, an urgent care clinic, or your local federally qualified healthcare center. Please do not show up to an emergency room or healthcare facility unannounced.