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Hampton Roads religious leaders take steps to protect congregations from flu, coronavirus

"Fear really is a virus and it is a more severe virus. Our job is really to remain faithful."

NORFOLK, Va. — Every Sunday, Christians gather for church service. But that togetherness during worship can get too close for comfort during flu season and in light of the coronavirus reaching the U.S.

Christ & St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Norfolk is stocked with hand sanitizer all year long. Reverend Win Lewis said his congregation is mindful of keeping germs at bay.

"Years ago, we went through a very heavy flu season,” Rev. Lewis said. “At that time, we made sure that there were hand sanitizers with over 60 percent alcohol in the pews."

Church leaders have automatic hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrances and a bottle at each end of the pew.

However, as the flu and coronavirus spread in the U.S., Rev. Lewis said people can minimize participation during mass.

He said it’s okay to pass up a handshake during the sign of peace or skip out on the common wine cup at communion.

"God forbid the coronavirus should hit this area hard, [but] we do have protocols in place,” Rev. Lewis said.

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Rev. Lewis was able to get protocol from a Lutheran church in Hong Kong. The steps range by the severity of the virus.

"The worst-case scenario would be to not have church,” Rev. Lewis said. “In which case we would live stream a service."

But he doesn't want the cautionary measures to make churchgoers worry.

"Fear really is a virus and it is a more severe virus,” Rev. Lewis said. “Our job is really to remain faithful, to remain faithful to our practices of prayer and worship."

Rev. Lewis said other church leaders in the area are following the same guidelines. He said the goal is to keep mass full, but anyone who is sick should take a Sunday off.

"Continue to go to church, don't be afraid to go to church,” Rev. Lewis said.

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