Musings from Bishop Marty – March 2020 Edition

Some wisdom from our awesome bishop…

I guess it might be topical that I am wearing both hats today: both as an Episcopal bishop and as an infectious disease veterinarian/epidemiologist.  The U.S. Centers of Disease Control has issued an advisory about the new Corona virus in humans, Covid-19.  The CDC and the World Health Organization are predicting a high likelihood of a pandemic with this virus.  There are infections in every continent, except Antarctica.  At the end of February, most of the cases outside of Asia are contained under individual quarantine at the moment.  This virus does not spread as easily as the flu, but if still highly contagious and the human population has not seen this particular Corona virus yet, so most people exposed will likely get some symptoms. WHO reports that 82% of cases are mild (like a bad cold) while 15% develop a more serious respiratory illness.  Symptoms include fever, severe cough, shortness of breath and sometimes gastrointestinal problems or diarrhea. There are cases of people who have transmitted the infection but they themselves developed no symptoms (asymptomatic).  At the moment, Covid-19 is thought to be transmitted by the coughing and sneezing resulting from this respiratory virus.  The incubation period (time of exposure to the start of symptoms) is between 10 to 14 days. Part of the current challenge is the lack of enough diagnostic testing kits and the variability in the diagnostic quality of the available kits.  The laboratory and clinical tests are still under rapid development.

From the February 27th Situation Report from WHO:

If you are not in an area where COVID-19 is spreading, or if you have not travelled from one of those areas or have not been in close contact with someone who has and is feeling unwell, your chances of getting it are currently low. However, it’s understandable that you may feel stressed and anxious about the situation. It’s a good idea to get the facts to help you accurately determine your risks so that you can take reasonable precautions. Your healthcare provider, your national public health authority and your employer are all potential sources of accurate information on COVID-19 and whether it is in your area. It is important to be informed of the situation where you live and take appropriate measures to protect yourself.  If you are in an area where there is an outbreak of COVID-19 you need to take the risk of infection seriously. Follow the advice issued by national and local health authorities. Although for most people COVID-19 causes only mild illness, it can make some people very ill. More rarely, the disease can be fatal. Older people, and those with preexisting medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes) appear to be more vulnerable.

As Episcopalians we need to be prepared for when this virus reaches Montana.  For more information, go to:

CDC’s updates: 
WHO’s updates:

To prepare for the disease reaching Montana, all congregations should have hand sanitizers, surface disinfecting wipes and over-the-counter surgical-style face masks on hand.  These may become difficult to obtain in the midst of an outbreak.  All of these items can come in handy during next year’s flu season.  In the face of a potential outbreak:

  • If you have a fever and any respiratory signs-STAY HOME.This includes choir masters, your bishop, and altar guild chairs: you know who you are! Contact your clergy to let them know if you need pastoral care and let them know you are sick, so the necessary precautions can be made.
  • If the Public Health authorities request church services be cancelled, please follow their recommendations.A church gathering has been implicated in part of the outbreak in China.
  • Please note: the common communion cup has never been implicated in a disease outbreak and has been laboratory tested with a variety of infectious agents provided the chalice is silver (plate is fine), wine is used (especially port, which has a higher alcohol content) and the chalice is wiped and rotated between receiving communicants.
  • Clergy and Eucharistic Ministers need to use hand sanitizer over the entire surface of both hands (not just fingertips); lavabo water is insufficient.Remember to not touch your face or other surfaces (especially altar rails and your glasses) before distributing bread. This is where disease transmission is more likely to occur during Communion.That and altar rails. Resanitize your hands as needed.
  • Altar Guilds need to prepare the table and the sanctuary with sanitation in mind.Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before beginning.Use disposable gloves if necessary.Do not touch surfaces or your face while setting up for communion.Altar rails and the tops of pews or chairs and any arms on chairs (the places people are likely to place contaminated hands) should be wiped with sanitizing wipes before each service.The Altar rail can also be wiped periodically during communion if people are in habit of kneeling to receive and use the altar rail to assist in kneeling or standing.
  • Hand sanitizer should be readily available to all people attending or serving at any church gathering.Use should be strongly encouraged.Teach people to not touch their face or to use the sanitizer if doing so.The face masks can help with this new habit.
  • Toss all paper bulletins used in a service: do not reuse.
  • There is no real way to sanitize the typical pew BCPs and hymnals.Wiping the exterior will help, but teaching people to not touch their face after using the books is the best prevention.
  • Passing of the Peace should be done without handshaking or hugs.Remember to resanitize hands afterward (you may have grabbed a contaminated surface).
  • If you have respiratory signs (without fever), have a weak immune system, or have another health issue that makes you more at risk for severe disease, please use a face mask to help reduce your risk.Be kind and do not pry if someone chooses to wear a mask.Wearing a mask as a precaution is a common practice in Japan and other countries.Do not reuse masks!
  • Figure out ways to assist our senior citizens with these new habits.Work with the children of the congregation to join in this exercise without terrifying or terrorizing them.
  • Sanitize all children’s worship kits. Print fresh children’s bulletins: do not reuse between services.Stuff animals should only be brought from home and taken home.Stuffed animals and paper cannot be sanitized in a church setting.
  • Pray for those who are ill; for those who are terrified of this outbreak; for those who are working so hard to stop it and those who are in the midst of caring for those who are ill.
  • Please remember that this outbreak will be done at some point in time.It is the fear of the unknown and anticipation that troubles the soul so much.This virus is not like those portrayed in Hollywood movies.But as the epidemiologist character, Dr. Erin Mears, said in the movie, Contagion: ‘Stop touching your face!’ and ‘Wash your hands frequently.’

Author: Father Stephen

Father Stephen started serving as the rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on January 10, 2020. Prior to that position he served as priest-in-charge in Miles City and Forsyth, Montana. He is originally from West Virginia and has experience in youth ministry, mission work and more.