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FAQ & Links for Assembly Gatherings During the COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 Advice for Assembly Gatherings

As questions arise from the advice regarding assembly gatherings during the current pandemic, I will update this article. I will also provide some useful links for those who are making decisions about their gatherings and conferences.

Q: Is not the passing of the plate as problematic as passing the cup? Given that hands can be very dirty. What alternatives could be considered?

Gloves for this, even before the cup(s). I will break the bread, then separate 20 small “bites”, and carry the plate to every person, and they will lift off ONLY their own piece. A “no touch” situation.

Dr. Lindsay Parks

Yes, and we mentioned this in the document.  Again, in small groups it may be workable for one brother to hold the plate for each believer, so that he or she can break off a piece without touching the plate.  The same could be done with the collection basket or bag.  In larger companies, each believer could use hand sanitizer after handling the shared objects.  During this crisis, we might even consider having a secure collection box somewhere in the hall, and instructing the believers to deposit their offerings directly in the box.

Dr. David Vallance

Q: Regarding the possibility of using individual wipes on the cup rim: what about killing the virus in the wine? (i.e., not just on the rim but in the liquid of the cup)

No way I know of, to do this. The alcohol content is not nearly high enough.

Dr. Lindsay Parks

The wiping of the cup rim should be sufficient.  Sipping from a cup leaves saliva residue where the lips are in contact with the glass—on the rim.  It is certainly conceivable that a person could “back-wash” saliva into the wine, but this is not as concerning for the spread of infection as the direct contact of the lips with the cup rim. 
Further, we have a procedure to reduce the risk posed by the cup rim; completely eliminating the risk posed by virus carried in the wine, however, would require abandoning the communal cup altogether.  In the end, we can only manage risk, not remove it entirely.  Believers whose underlying health problems make a coronavirus infection very dangerous should not partake of the emblems at all, and indeed should probably stay home until the threat passes.

Dr. David Vallance

Q: Would there be a meaningful reduction in risk going from one or two cups to 4 or 8 cups of wine (e.g., one for each row)? (keeping in mind a wide variation of assembly sizes)

No: no meaningful reduction. I am going to have each take a small paper cup from a dispenser when walking in, and I will go around and pour a bit into each cup, with gloves on. When I hold the basket for each ones’ offering, I will also carry a plastic bag to collect the cups.

Dr. Lindsay Parks

Some larger companies (including the assembly I am part of) have one vessel on the table, but then for efficiency pour the wine into two cups for distribution.  This “compromise” seeks to maintain the pattern of a single cup (expressing our joint participation in the one work of Christ—1 Cor. 10:16), and yet allows for efficient distribution.  If we can accept this procedure, then there is no logical reason not to pour the wine into 4 cups (as we do at the conference), or even 8, to reduce the number of people an infected person could affect.
Rather than multiplying cups, however, perhaps a better approach would be to have a team of two brothers assigned to each cup, one to hold the cup and wipe it, and the other to hand him clean wipes and collect used wipes.  The first wipe needs to be alcohol-based, and could simply be an alcohol prep pad used to prepare skin for an injection.  Since the alcohol leaves a residual taste, a second dry cloth could be used to assure that the sanitizing alcohol residue is wiped off.
With this proposal, the first brother would take the cup at the end of each row, and the second brother would first hand him an alcohol wipe to disinfect the rim, and then a clean dry cloth to wipe the rim a second time to remove the alcohol residue. 
This is not perfect.  It would be ideal to wipe the cup before each believer partakes—and in small companies this may be feasible.  A proper cleansing at the end of each row, however, seems to me to be a reasonable compromise in larger groups.  While each individual could wipe the cup himself, I think asking a person to balance a cup of wine on one knee while trying to tear open an alcohol wipe is an accident waiting to happen. 

Dr. David Vallance

Q: After a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, how long until they are no longer infectious and able to be at meetings again?

Totally up to local healthcare experts, and the local, state, or provincial health departments. That jury is still out…

Dr. Lindsay Parks

The answer is about 10 days.  A German study looked at clinical data from patients who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in order to determine when people infected with the virus can infect others.  Virus shedding is very heavy early on in the infection, which explains the virus’s rapid and efficient spread.  However, the study also suggests that while people with mild infections can still test positive by throat swabs for days and even weeks after their illness, those who have had a minor illness are likely no longer infectious by about the 10th day after they started to experience symptoms.  Maybe 14 days would give a little safety margin.

Dr. David Vallance

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About the author

Caleb Simonyi-Gindele

An overseer himself, Caleb's mission is to help other elders lead their local assembly through some of the unique challenges of the 21st century: both doctrinal and shepherding. More about Caleb.