COVID+ and your Ministry: Tracking and Tracing

Just a few months ago the thought of taking attendance for your church service or having people register in advance to attend a service were almost non-existent. Today, however, ministry teams are looking into both. This type of tracking helps limit the number of people in the building for social distancing purposes, makes it easier to assign seating for services, meetings, and activities, and plays a central role with contact tracing efforts in case someone on your staff or an attendee becomes ill or tests positive for coronavirus.

There are barriers to taking attendance, doing advance registration, and keeping logs of every service and event, so this is an approach your team will need to evaluate and decide about. Do you have someone who will oversee this process and do you have a way to accomplish it? Some free event or registration platform options to check out include EventBrite.com, Facebook.com (use the Events feature), or creating a registration page and form on your website. If using software and the internet is not in your wheelhouse, you most likely have multiple people who attend your church that are knowledgeable and who are willing to help walk someone on your team through their features. And if your church and your attendees are not able to use an online platform, pre-registration can be done by phone and email.

What if you are notified that someone is COVID+?

Until there is a vaccine, chances are someone who either works for or attends your ministry will eventually test positive for COVID-19. Or they will have been in “close contact” with someone who has. The CDC defines close contact as “anyone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 48 hours before the person began feeling sick until the time the infected person was isolated.”

If you know who is attending your services and activities, this documentation will help the health department with the contact tracing process. The goal of contact tracing is to interrupt the spread of the disease by notifying those who were in close contact to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 so they can take precautionary measures. Keeping infection rates low to avoid outbreak and pandemic levels is key for community health officials and they need help from the community to make it effective.

Depending on the exposure, close contacts may be asked to monitor their temperature twice a day, to be on the lookout for symptoms, to use enhanced measures for social distancing, hygiene, and masks, to either isolate or quarantine for a specific amount of days, or to be tested.

It is important to note that when the CDC or the health department in your community/state conducts contact tracing, they will only notify close contacts of the COVID+ person that they might have been exposed to COVID-19. The name of the COVID + person will not be disclosed, unless the COVID+ person gives permission. If they do not have permission to release the name, they will only share relevant details with those who may have been exposed, such as dates, places, activities where the COVID+ person and their close contacts were together.

You can read more about contact tracing in this article by the CDC: Daily Life Coping: Contact Tracing. Also check your local and state health department website for contact tracing information.   

Ask permission before releasing names

Employees
As an employer, you may be asked by the health department or the CDC to help with contact tracing efforts if one of your employees tests positive for COVID-19. Another scenario may be that the employee contacts you directly to let you know he or she has tested positive. In some circumstances, your ministry may have a legal duty to provide general information about possible exposure to an employee who has tested positive. However, the employee’s identity generally should not be shared without the employee’s permission. It is a best practice to ask for written permission to use the employee’s name before sharing their identity to alert those the employee was in close contact with in your ministry workplace. If your ministry is given permission to share the identity of the infected employee, remind those that you alert that the COVID+ person’s name should be considered confidential and not shared further.

Some employers also send or post a general alert if at least one employee is currently COVID+. In this scenario, the employee’s name and work location would not be shared. Here is sample alert that could appear on an employee message board:  “COVID-19 STATUS UPDATE: YELLOW – This means at least one employee is currently positive for COVID-19 and is quarantined. Employees who were in close contact have been notified by human resources.” 

Attendees
Similar to your approach when learning that an employee has tested positive, your ministry is encouraged to avoid sharing the name of an attendee who is COVID+ without his or her permission. If you took attendance or had registration for the event then you’ll be able to help with contact tracing efforts either by sharing information with the person doing the contract tracing or assisting them in contacting the close contacts. Even without permission to share the name of the attendee who has tested positive, your ministry can let people know who attended the service or activity, or possible those who you know had close contact with the infected person, that they may have been exposed. And if you do have permission to use the COVID+ person’s name, remind those you talk with that the person’s name should be considered confidential and not shared further.

Another scenario may be that one of your church attendees lets you know they or a family member are ill and then asks for prayers or help in ministering to the family. Ask the person’s permission before sharing his or her name, and only share it confidentially with those who need to know.

General Announcements

If you are noticing a trend in attendees or employees informing you that they are COVID+, you may consider making a general announcement to inform your people about the possible exposure and risk. If you are receiving notice of a number of attendees or employees that are positive for COVID-19, you are encouraged to work with your local health department for guidance on how to proceed with future services and activities. Their staff may also be able to help with guidance on what information to release, who to release it to, and how. If you can reliably track attendance at your services and events, this may reduce the possibility that you would need to place a public announcement about someone who attended being COVID+. 

Be Flexible

If there is a surge of coronavirus in your state or community, state officials may ask their residents, businesses, and organizations to help interrupt the disease spread by reducing the number of people at gatherings, working remotely, and limiting public interaction. If you have not already incorporated what your ministry did the past few months into a plan, now is the time to debrief with your team. Write up the challenges your ministry faced, what you implemented to overcome them, and what your needs are if you experience a disruption again. For example, if you need to implement remote working, cancel in-person services and provide them online, you’ll be ready.

Additional CDC Articles:

Posted July 6, 2020

The information provided in this article is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.