Churches search for ways to battle flu epidemic


DALLAS — Recently, Pastor Johnny Nix of Pickett's Mill Baptist Church told volunteers to leave.

Seems rash, sure, but these days it's necessary. Like so many other churches, Pickett's Mill finds itself currently locked in a battle with the flu. And as in any battle, sometimes extreme steps must be taken.

"We've instructed our volunteers and workers to postpone coming by for a couple of weeks if they or someone in their family has had it," said Nix. "That may seem a little extreme, but we're taking every precaution necessary."

And Pickett's Mill isn't awash in volunteers either. "It's very difficult when you're short on workers," points out Nix, who began at the church last June. "But, it's necessary to provide the most safe environment for our church family."

In its latest report, the Center for Disease Control stated all ten regions throughout the country as having an "Elevated" status for the flu. Also, the proportion of outpatient visits for flu-like symptoms, it stated, was 5.8 percent. That figure remains above the national baseline of 2.2 percent.

Since Oct. 1 Region 4, which includes Georgia and the Southeast, has registered 984 test results from public health laboratories for the flu, according to the CDC report. The West Coast, it found, is the hardest-hit area of the country, followed by the corridor from New Mexico to Arkansas and Louisiana.

The Georgia Department of Public Health released its own report for the same period. In it, flu-like illness was found at a high level of intensity across the state with 56 hospitalizations for Dec. 31-Jan. 6. That makes 307 hospitalizations for the flu this season.

Sanitizer stations, welcome with a wave

Because of those numbers, Georgia Baptist churches are taking extra steps. At Second Baptist in Warner Robins, that includes making hand sanitizer readily available. Also, it means modifying some long-held traditions.

"We added hand sanitizer stations on the walls around the lobby and in the auditorium," said Pastor Jim Perdue. "There are also sanitizers in each nursery and children's room."

During the cold and flu season, he added, the church usually skips the normal welcome time. That way, germs are denied their personal interstate system via hundreds of handshakes.

At Cartersville First Baptist (note: home church of the writer), members and visitors were encouraged to replace handshakes with a "warm wave" during the welcome time.

CFBC Children's Ministry Director Lisa Lovett also sent an email to parents and volunteers addressing the flu. Normally, a 24-hour-rule is followed for how long to stay away if experiencing sickness. However, Lovett encouraged that time frame to extend back to Friday. Should their child have been sick on Thursday, she asked parents to call church staff to determine if it's safe for them to be there Sunday morning. 

Taking appropriate measures

Second Baptist Preschool Coordinator Donise Woodrich works in tandem with Children's Pastor Ben Hunley to take appropriate measures for the church's youngest attendees. This is done, Perdue noted, through recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics Infectious Disease Control.

As such, Second Baptist urges any children or volunteers to stay home if they've experienced flu-like symptoms. Those include a fever reaching 100.4, vomiting, or diarrhea within the last 24 hours.

When he was pastor of Liberty Baptist in Dalton, Joel Southerland said disinfectant foggers worked well to wipe out germs. It's a measure Peavine Baptist in Rock Springs, where he's currently pastor, is considering.

Southerland heard about the devices from a local school employee. Most recently, Hartselle, AL's school system has been using foggers to spray disinfectant after having up to 13 percent of its student boy out because of the flu.

Center for Disease Control, children's ministry, flu, health