The same week Tennessee got its first confirmed case of coronavirus, some religious communities were changing how they worship in hopes of protecting the faithful as fears grow and the disease spreads.
On Thursday, Bishop Richard Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville directed all churches in the diocese to stop distributing wine during communion. In the Catholic tradition, communion wine is typically given by sharing a chalice. The bishop also called on congregants to no longer give a physical sign of peace — such as shaking hands or hugging — but instead to bow their heads to one another.
The move mirrors other Catholic communities across the country with confirmed cases, such as in Chicago and Washington State. On Wednesday night, a 44-year-old man from Williamson County tested positive for coronavirus, the first case in Tennessee of the new virus that has infected more than 100,000 people worldwide and killed nearly 3,200 people.
Coronavirus cases have been confirmed in 16 other states, including in North Carolina and Georgia. The virus is responsible for killing at least 12 people in Washington and California. On Friday, President Donald Trump signed an $8.3 billion emergency spending bill to address the outbreak.
Houses of worship could pose problems for any effort to stop the virus that spreads person-to-person. Congregants often sit or stand in close proximity, shake hands or hug during the service and may share meals afterward.
People at the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga on Friday were encouraged to not touch hands as much until the virus passes. In a joint statement released last month, the three Episcopal Dioceses of Tennessee said local churches should consider stopping physical contact during the passing of the peace or in the receiving line after the service. Churches should consider rescheduling or canceling large gatherings, the statement said.
Silverdale Baptist Church already takes precautions during cold and flu season, such as setting up hand sanitizer stations and respecting people who do not want to touch during welcome times, said Bobby Daniels, communications director.
"We don't do anything extra because of this, because [coronavirus] is spread the same way the flu is," Daniels said. "Everything from our kids' programs all the way through main worship is just normal precautions that we take during cold and flu season."
Similarly, Thomas Quisenberry, pastor of First Baptist Church, said he had no immediate plans for changing worship services.
"We're concerned like everyone else, but we just want to wait and see," Quisenberry said.
The spread of the virus could disrupt more than weekly gatherings. The United Methodist Church is scheduled to meet in Minneapolis in May for its General Conference, a meeting many believe will formally split the denomination. In early June, thousands of representatives from Southern Baptist Convention member churches plan to meet in Orlando.
Contact Wyatt Massey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.