As COVID-19 reaches congregations, parish nurses offer observations, advice

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Truscott listed ways of preventing the spread of COVID-19 recommended by Toronto Public Health, including washing the hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds. Photo: ElRoi/Shutterstock

In recent days, COVID-19—the disease caused by a novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, last December—has continued to spread globally, affecting worship around the world. On Monday, March 9, the Rev. Timothy Cole, rector of Christ Church Georgetown, Washington, D.C., was reported to have tested positive for the disease. Several hundred people were asked to self-quarantine as a result, and all services and other events at the church were suspended until further notice. The same day, Beth Sholom Synagogue, in Toronto, was reported to have temporarily closed after one of its lay leaders was diagnosed with COVID-19.

As of March 10, the Public Health Agency of Canada indicates risk is “low for the general population in Canada but this could change rapidly,” with increased risk of “severe outcomes” for Canadians who are 65 and older, who have compromised immune systems or who have underlying medical conditions. As health officials continue to fight the spread of COVID-19, the Anglican Journal emailed two Anglican nurses for their observations and reflections: Nancy Truscott, parish nurse at St. Paul’s Bloor Street, Toronto; and Elsie Millerd, former parish nurse at the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Kitchener, Ont. Their responses are republished here, edited for clarity.

 We begin with what Truscott told us on Friday, March 6:

I am hearing from some people that they wish to stockpile. Others are alarmed to hear that. Is that really necessary? Others are angry that we don’t use enough good hygiene practices these days. We are complacent and don’t always stay home when we are sick.

There will be more questions after March 8th when Bishop Asbil’s letter is read out.

Today my Muslim friend says the annual March 21st social is cancelled at her mosque at the Ismaili Centre on Wynford Drive. Worshippers can attend Friday prayers and leave.

All this news floats around and we are anxious for updates.

Truscott also attached an information sheet she had prepared with recommendations for her parishioners, which is excerpted here:

A casualty of COVID-19 is peace of mind.

Be honest. Who hasn’t thought about their own likelihood of surviving COVID-19?

Many of us look at our age and underlying health conditions and follow the statistics coming out.

This could be a personal threat and our family’s threat too.

So we consider what we should do. Stock up on essentials? Delay planning a trip?

Even cancel a trip? People will make their individual decisions based on the latest information from media and advice coming from public health officials.

However, some sources are inflammatory and anxiety provoking.

Be careful to choose factual sources of information and resist the temptation to be preoccupied and consumed by it.

Truscott listed ways of preventing the spread of COVID-19 recommended by Toronto Public Health, including washing the hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds; avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands; avoiding close contact with infected people; and staying home when ill. On Monday, March 9, Truscott provided an update on the weekend’s Sunday services, at which a pastoral letter on COVID-19 from Andrew Asbil, bishop of the diocese of Toronto, was read:

In spite of it being March Break we had a robust attendance at St. Paul’s on March 8th.

I think that shows the resilience of parishioners who are keeping this threat of community acquired virus in perspective. We are not going to succumb to fear and anxiety. “We’ve got this.”

That is a positive reaction. Worshipping God together is so important to our spiritual health and community spirit.

Millerd replied Saturday, March 7:

The main concern that I have heard in our community is whether or not people should carry out their planned winter holiday plans, especially if it is a cruise. My own concern is that some people’s fears will outweigh common sense and wise decisions.

Millerd provided advice similar to the Toronto public health recommendations cited by Truscott, adding a recommendation to “maintain and strengthen the body’s immunity with a balanced, nutritious diet, adequate sleep and daily exercise.” She also added advice for parishes preparing for an outbreak in their communities:

  • Encourage plans for good communication and support in the parish in case of quarantine by developing a telephone tree to communicate with each other and especially with those who do not have family support nearby;
  • Follow the guidelines set out by the public health department;
  • Caution people not to stockpile and use unnecessarily the protective supplies such as masks and gloves which may be needed by people caring for the stricken during an outbreak.

Millerd concluded:

As a parish nurse who is integrating faith and health, I would ask: How does the threat of the COVID-19 virus speak to our spiritual life or our relationship with God and our neighbour?

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

1 COMMENT

  1. Dr. Anjali Talwalker of the Washington Health Department said Monday that an exposure risk is defined as coming within six feet of a person with active virus symptoms. “Several hundred people were potentially impacted,” at Christ Church, Georgetown, and are now in quarantine”. Did the priest know he had “active symptoms” ? Would he knowingly put congregants at risk?
    It is also known, that a person can be infected with the Coronavirus, and not know it; meanwhile, they could be infecting other people. This is the very dangerous situation that the world is currently facing. We must not overlook this.
    The church will have to take a stand. Sports and Entertainment events are being cancelled, because large gatherings of people are known to be a danger in a Covid 19 world..

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