On March 17, Governor Reynolds issued a State of Public Health Disaster Emergency

Includes: Mass Gathering:
Social, community, spiritual, religious, recreational, leisure, and sporting gatherings and events of more than 10 people are hereby prohibited at all locations and venues, including but not limited to parades, festivals, conventions, and fundraisers. Planned large gatherings and events must be canceled or postponed until after termination of this disaster.

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Updated Resources

What is it?

A novel coronavirus (also known as (COVID-19)) is a new coronavirus that has not been seen before. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans.  In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of Coronavirus disease resemble the flu, including tiredness, fever, dry cough and difficulty breathing.  Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.  Some people can have the disease and experience no symptoms.

Symptoms appear 2-14 days after exposure.

Current CDC advice is to call your healthcare professional if you feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19.

How dangerous is the disease?

It’s still unknown how dangerous the virus is.  What is known is that the death rate at this time is 2% in the area of China where the disease first appeared.  It is lower in other areas.  In comparison the regular flu mortality rate is less than 1%.

Most people who contract the virus experience mild symptoms and recover with no treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 develop more serious symptoms, particularly pneumonia and difficulty breathing.  Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.

How does it spread?

Coronavirus is spread from person to person.

Exactly how it is spread from person to person is still being investigated but studies indicate that it is spread by respiratory droplets rather than through the air.  When an infected person coughs or sneezes, these small droplets can be breathed in by those who are nearby.

It is also possible to be infected by touching a surface or object that has these droplets on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

It is believed that people are most contagious when they show symptoms of the disease, however, there have been reports of the disease being spread before symptoms appeared.

There is no evidence that the disease has been spread through food.

How to protect yourself

There currently is no vaccine for the virus.  Current flu vaccines available do not protect against COVID-19.

The best way to avoid the virus is the same advice for all respiratory infections:

  • Stay at least 3 feet away from someone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
    • See more about handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives

How does this impact our Worship practices?

At this time there is no need to consider cancelling worship or any congregational events.

The ELCA has just put out a helpful resource “Worship in Times of Public Health Concerns” with good advice.  The advice is the same for anytime there is a concern about contagious diseases.

  • Wash your hands.
  • Suggest alternatives to shaking hands or hugging during the Peace (other options should be available at all times).
  • Encourage people to stay home if they are ill.  That goes for YOU, TOO, Pastor.
  • Encourage hand washing.

The resource also suggests ways to deal with anxiety about Holy Communion.  These decisions will depend on local circumstances and should be made in consultation with the pastor and congregation leaders and based on sound reliable, scientific information.

Another practice that congregations who are concerned might consider is to follow the recommendations of the CDC and use a household cleaner to wipe down the tops and backs of pews, and handrails after every worship.


Another resource offered by the ELCA is Congregational Planning Checklist for a Pandemic.

Prayer offered by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

Merciful God, we know that your heart overflows with compassion for your whole creation. Pour out your Spirit on all people living with this illness, or who are living with anxiety about this illness, for which there is not yet a cure. Be with those who tend to the needs of the sick. Strengthen us all in body and spirit, console us when anxious, comfort us in grief and hearten us in discouragement. Help to remind us that you claim us as your own and are with us wherever we go. Through Christ, our healer and Lord. Amen.

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.