On Monday morning 20 June 2020 the British Union Conference (BUC) ‘Reopening Churches’ Committee was joined by two Public Health professionals: Edward Kunonga, who is a Public Health Consultant for three NHS trusts and a Professor of Public Health, and Lincoln Sargeant who is Director of Public Health for North Yorkshire. They had been invited by BUC President, Pastor Ian Sweeney, to give advice on the specific issues facing the approximately four hundred Seventh-day Adventist congregations across the territory of the BUC, as they seek to reopen for public worship services.
Lincoln Sargeant began by describing the complex epidemiology of COVID-19. One of the factors that has enhanced its spread is the fact that people become infectious two to three days before they show any symptoms. Scientific research has identified proximity as a key risk factor for example, increasing distance from one to two metres, decreases the risk of infection by a factor of 10. Time is also crucial, with 15 minutes at two metres, carrying a risk equivalent to one minute at one metre. Facemasks help reduce transmission, as does being outside. Talking, shouting or singing, are like coughing or sneezing, in that they facilitate the spread of infection.
Edward Kunonga followed up the epidemiological picture with an explanation of the risks faced by individuals. Factors which put some people at a higher risk than others include age, underlying health conditions and ethnicity. We also need to consider the way certain people behave. Adventists in church are accustomed to shaking hands, hugging, singing, sitting in close proximity and eating together.
Putting all these factors together it is easy to see that a typical Seventh-day Adventist worship service can create a perfect storm, with all risk factors being present.