What is your ward doing about swine flu?

Mormons are often reluctant, whether through zeal or sense of duty, to miss Sunday services.  And yet this commendable trait can turn into a public health problem when people attend church with colds or flues in tow.  Picture if you will sacrament trays being passed through hands of sick, coughing people, nurseries where children mingle, and meetings where binders are passed through rows of people holding Kleenex to elderly members. How can we change our culture to encourage people to stay home when their health poses threats to others?

Here are some ideas that we have brainstormed:

  • Bishops could explicitly tell people to not come if they are ill.
  • We could podcast services to those who cannot make it to church for health reasons.
  • We could encourage the use of Purell when passing sacrament trays and request that parents with clean hands take bread and water for their children.
  • We could have a lesson on how to use Sundays in a reverent way when one is too sick for church.

What have your wards been doing?

Bookmark What is your ward doing about swine flu?


  1. Oh, I like the “parents hand the sacrament to the kids” idea. All those glommy mitts all over the bread… ewwww.

  2. We’re fist bumping instead of hand shaking.

  3. The only thing we did was to make sure the teachers or priests who prepare the sacrament wash their hands before handling it. That is on top of using wipes before breaking the bread. Other than that, I don’t think the topic has ever come up.

  4. Our ward posted signs all over the building asking not just sick individuals, but all those with family members with flu symptoms to stay home for at least a few days after the symptoms are gone. It seemed a bit extreme to me, but we do have lots of elderly people in our ward, so I can see where they’re coming from.

  5. I’m not doing anything differently for H1N1 than I would do for any other illness. If I am sick, or if my wife or children are sick, we stay home.

    I am not aware of anyone in my ward who has come to church sick, or brought sick children to church. Given that we are in the midst of football season, I would hazzard to guess that some parents would not mind missing church to tend to sick children and watch football.

  6. Today we sat in every other row so deacons can pass to each individual. All priests and deacons wore gloves. Instead of putting cups back in the tray, someone came along behind with a bag where you put your cup. Individuals still take the bread and water though.

    Hand sanitizing stations have been installed, the bishop has repeatedly asked people not to be valiant if they are sick or caring for sick family members and to stay at home, we have been asked to have an extra lesson prepared, and to be prepared to step in at the last minute to help out if needed.

  7. oh yeah, and hand shaking is being discouraged.

  8. Wow, Kris, that’s pretty hard core. When the first outbreak of swine flu hit Texas our Sunday meetings were canceled once (when all the schools were closing) but nothing else has been addressed, at least not publicly. I teach the Sunbeam class, though, so I pretty much assume sick snotty children are going to be an ever-present part of my Sundays.

  9. Kris,

    Where do you live? Is there a big problem in your area?

  10. I’ve noticed several times when my kids put their cups back into the tray, that they dump leftover water in their cup into other cups still in the tray. I dumped those cups as well, and now both give my kids cups, and take them back to return them to the tray. I also hand them the bread.

    Of course we could go back to the single cup passed around to everybody, all get H1N1 at once, and be done with it.

  11. Natalie B. says:

    Wow, Kris. I don’t know what this says about me, but I would absolutely love those precautions. I ALWAYS end up getting sick if there are other sick people around.

  12. Natalie,
    I think your post should have begun, “American Mormons…”
    That may explain the difference between the ward Kris attends, and many other wards.

  13. My stake in Boston has told members not to come to church if they think they might have the swine flu. Podcasting is a good idea, but for some reason I doubt church leaders would be cool with that.

  14. Instead of water in the sacrament cups, we drank hand sanitizer gel. Sure, some people objected on WoW grounds, but since it was blessed at all, we figured it wasn’t much different from wine back in the day.

  15. We had a huge outbreak in our neighborhood last spring (over 100 kids at school), out bishop uninvited us from church for the following two weeks. Between Hurricane Ike and Swine Flu, we got 4 weeks of churchcation–a favorite blessing. The health precautions amuse me in that H1N1 is no more serious than any other flu, but the hype has caused more hygiene vigilance. Hopefully, the hand washing and staying home when sick will continue after H1N1 goes away.

  16. it would probably help to remind people there are (hopefully) sub lists,etc and so people don’t feel guilty if they have to call in to Church. Perhaps a friendly email announcement could be sent or something posted in the bulletin to remind people to not come if ill and that while they’ll be missed, someone will do their church work and that they shouldn’t feel bad if they can’t attend.

  17. No one has mentioned anything about H1N1 in our ward.

    I can think of nothing more deathly boring than listening to a podcast of sacrament meeting, though.

  18. H1N1 just went through my ward (it took out the entire nursery in one Sunday) and elementary school. The problem with H1N1 is that you are contagious 24 hours before any symptoms are present.

  19. Actually, I believe you can only get sick from the sacrament if you take it with your left hand.

  20. Our bishop is a doctor specializing in family/emergency care. His advice, since this first appeared last year:

    1. Don’t come to church if you are sick.
    2. Wash your hands frequently.
    3. More people will die from the regular flu, so if you’re not getting regular flu shots, you’re demonstrating you’re not worried about this anyway.

  21. alextvalencic says:

    We made enough announcements to make sure folks knew that H1N1 was a big deal, and the Bishopric pleaded with members over the pulpit to “be selfish and stay home” if they were sick. (Members were assured that, from time to time, we can survive a Sunday without them.)

    When a hundred kids or so in one of our ward’s school districts were all diagnosed with the flu, folks started taking it seriously.

    We’ve also had hand sanitizer at ward activities, and there have been several discussions about the need to properly sanitize the toys used in the nursery.

  22. We were told if we had any signs of the flu to stay home unless at least a few days after it had passed.

    Our stake president was even in a leadership meeting with some of the bishoprics. One of the bishops valiantly made it to the meeting even though he was ill. The stake president sent him home and said that was more important than anything that would come from the meeting.

    We have literally thousands of church meetings in our lives. Missing a few makes absolutely no difference. And to be honest, on days I’ve missed church for various reasons, having a few hours of awake uninterrupted scripture study has been more spiritual than 90% of my Sunday blocks anyway.

  23. My son has Cystic Fibrosis, so we’ve been keeping him home. Our ward has been very supportive, sending aaronic priesthood members out to bring him the sacrament.

  24. Umm, not calling it swine flu? It is generally called N1H1.

    The same as everyone else … sanitizers all around, reminding people not to come to church sick.

    At the same time, I would hate it if the basic communal nature of our services were permanently marked as unhygienic.

  25. We were told to stay home if we’re sick. And since I’m one of the nursery leaders, I’ve made a big deal about keeping sick kids out of nursery and we use hand sanitizer more often through the day.

    I’m more concerned about the toys though. We’re the last of three nurseries in our building and they don’t get cleaned through the day, and I can’t figure out a good way to get it done. There’s not time to get them cleaned and dry between wards, nor do we have any extra nursery workers to do it anyway- we’ve got more than 40 kids we’re trying to keep track of instead.

  26. Or H1N1. Whatever.

  27. > 3. More people will die from the regular flu, so if you’re not
    > getting regular flu shots, you’re demonstrating you’re not
    > worried about this anyway

    I love this. It’s not _quite_ true–THIS year, because of a new strain to which there’s little immunity, more people will probably die of H1N1 than of other strains. But thank goodness for a straightforward, common-sense approach!

    If a bishop wants to say anything about the flu at all, it would sure help if what he said genuinely educated his ward members. I’m sure most wards have well-informed doctors or biologists the bishops could talk to–or there’s always the very informative CDC and ASM sites on the Web.

    For example, shaking hands is a pretty good way to catch a cold, but to catch the flu this way, you only have about 5 minutes to grab the just-coughed-on hand of a highly contagious person and stick your fingers in your nose or mouth. Having priests wash their hands and watching where your toddler pours his leftover water are generally good ideas, but they’ll have a lot more effect on the annual epidemic of viral gastroenteritis than on the spread of the flu. There’s just WAY too much germophobia-feeding disinformation around!

  28. I think most people who come to church sick do it not because they don’t want to miss church, but because they have responsibilities at church, and generally finding a sub (in my experience, at least) is way more work and trouble than just going and doing it yourself, whether you’re sick or not. So I think the best thing anyone who’s concerned about people coming to church sick can do is to volunteer to sub for others who are sick or who have sick kids. Also, if you’re in a leadership position, don’t just keep a sub list that people can go down and call, ask a few people to be ready to sub each week and let your teachers know that there are subs already planning on helping, so they don’t need to worry about not coming if they’re sick. (Of course, I don’t have a calling right now, so I’m happy to report that if I am or one of my children is sick, we just stay home. It’s nice to not stress about it.)

  29. This is a bit pet peeve of mine anyways and I’m particularly irritated this week about it. I had a trip planned to help a family member who is having a tough fall. Included in this tough fall is a preschooler diagnosed with a serious condition that requires immuno-suppressants and avoidance of all respiratory illness. And wouldn’t you know, my kid contracted a cold from the nursery or ward activity last weekend (that was the only public place we were in during the incubation period). Now I’m in the uncomfortable spot of deciding if my child is “over the cold” enough to salvage the remainder of my already postponed plans.

    I know it is inconvenient to find a sub, but do it anyways. It is inconvenient for me to have a sick child. It is deadly for other children.

  30. To sanitize toys in Nursery you only need about 10 minutes. If you structure the 2 hours you have with them, it would be possible to engage the children in other activities for the last 15 minutes so Nursery workers can collect all the toys and spread them out on a table. The toys should then be sprayed with a solution of 10 parts water to 1 part bleach. This solution is good for only 24 hours max. I’d suggest someone mix it in a spray bottle right before they leave for church to ensure that the solution will be effective. The toys don’t need to be drenched, just lightly but completely sprayed. Allow the toys to air dry.
    This same water/bleach solution may be used to sanitize table surfaces and other areas that concern you. Just make sure they are allowed to air dry.
    Children should also be monitored during free play time so that a toy that is mouthed (VERY likely to happen with the youngest children in Nursery) is removed from play as soon as the child finishes with it. It should be placed in an out-of-the-way place so that another child cannot pick it up and play with/mouth it. Avoid whisking toys away from children as they play/mouth with them. That will just frustrate them. When it is time to sanitize the Nursery toys at the end of your block time, make sure those toys that have been pulled out are included in the sanitizing process.
    In addition, I’d suggest the toys be scrubbed every month or so in a good soapy solution, rinsed well, and allowed to air dry.
    Although the back-to-back schedules of wards meeting in a building make this disinfecting process a challenge for Nursery, it is possible to sanitize the toys. Good luck.

  31. We received a letter from our Area Presidency here in the UK asking us not to shake hands during the flu season. That was a couple of months ago. It’s hard for most people to not shake hands but we try.

  32. It’s not hard for me not to shake hands. I hate shaking hands.

  33. Shaking hands. Where did that stupid tradition come from anyway, and why doesn’t it go away? Being a member all of my life, I’ve always hated it.

  34. Oh, lucy.

    8 If it be the devil as an angel of light, when you ask him to shake hands he will offer you his hand, and you will not feel anything; you may therefore detect him.

  35. Ian, of course you do.

  36. #33: Shaking hands

    It was a way of showing someone you were unarmed, and thus a friend. Since most people used swords in their right hand, shaking right handed essentially “disarmed” you.

  37. Bwahahaha –

    Maybe I’m armed with H1N1 in my right hand…

  38. Ian # 10, I live in Canada and while we have had a few ward members sick with H1N1, I would say this is more preventative work.

  39. alextvalencic says:

    Regarding sanitizing toys in the Nursery:

    Conventional practice is to use the bleach mixture mentioned in #30. In reality, this practice can lead to a host of other problems.

    I own a professional cleaning business and recently had all of my employees trained in proper sanitation techniques. I strongly advocate sanitizing the toys (and all other hot spots in the chapel where folks will be touching stuff with their hands), but please, please, please call someone in the area who can direct you to safe solution that does not contain bleach!

    For example, in our area, we have a supplier, Chemical Maintenance, Inc., that makes a product called Formula 620. It is a food-safe disinfectant that should be diluted to 1/4 oz per gallon of water. Any product like this is a much better, much safer, alternative to bleach.

    For sanitizing other surfaces, such as doorknobs, push-plates, and bathrooms, a product like Conquer 400 is recommended. It is a dual quaternary, broad spectrum disinfectant cleaner. This product would not be used in a Nursery, where children are putting things in their mouths, but it is definitely recommended for other spaces.

    I should add that I am not specifically recommending you going out and purchasing these products – I am just giving them as examples of the types of products you should be looking for instead of bleach.

  40. Just to let you know there is a new hand sanitizer, which is FDA compliant. (I’ve done my research).

    I have tried it, and it’s pretty sweet. It’s non-alcohol based, which is nice because it doesn’t make you smell like alcohol and it doesn’t dry out your hands. Plus, I am not sure how good putting alcohol on kids hands is…

    Purel kills bacteria for 18 seconds, this one last for 8 hours. It protects you against ecoli, salmonella, and other bacteria and germs.

    Go here: http://www.skinwearshop.com — you can look it over and see if you like it. It does smell nice though and does what it says.

  41. I recently skipped two Sundays in a row because I had flu or flu-like symptoms, and I didn’t want to spread anything. On one of the same weekends, I missed seeing a convert family sealed to one another in the temple for the same reason.

    I’ve never quite understood members who go to church sick and contagious, thinking they are somehow being valiant when they are actually putting other members — particularly the very young and the very old — at risk.

    All that said, I think that the ‘swine flu pandemic’ has been terribly overblown (a very similar thing happened 35 years ago during the Ford Administration). On the other hand, all the precautions may help to reduce the rather staggering 30,000+ deaths due to flu that happen each year here in the US. ..bruce..

  42. When my husbands’ father, who was a surgeon, was bishop thirty years ago, he had the sacrament passed with a tray for the water and a small basket to dispense the cups. This minimized the threat of leftover water getting dumped into other cups in the tray. Bishoprics that followed did not continue the practice.

  43. In our stake:

    1. we’ve been asked to stay home from church if we are sick (about time)
    2. hand sanitizer is everywhere (about time)
    3. drinking fountains have been disabled (never would have thought of that on my own, but it’s a good idea, now that they mention it)
    4. hand-shaking is discouraged (kind of sad, but so is the swine flu)

  44. Other than asking parents not to bring sick kids to nursery, my ward hasn’t mentioned it and it bugs the hell out of me. They mentioned it in passing once so people still bring their kids to nursery who are covered in snot and hacking all over the place. I’ve actually taken my healthy son out of nursery a couple of times when I’ve seen the sick kids being dropped off.

    Last week a priest was coughing into his hand as he prepared the bread. So we skipped taking the sacrament that week.

  45. We have access to the vaccine so we have been innoculated for Swine and regular. Next….

  46. I was in Oakland temple a month ago, and people there were occupying every other row, and every other seat. I was with a friend, so we were the only ones sitting together. We were really surprised, but now, reading what Kris #6 said, it could be because of the flu.

    In our branch, we finally don’t have sick kids come to church, and much less people overall.

  47. Better yet, what are the Catholics doing? Everytime I attend a funeral or mass and see everyone drinking out of the same wine glass with just a wipe of the rim between each drink, I’m glad I’m LDS.

  48. We used to do the same thing, Diana, except without the wipe.

  49. Here in the Seattle area, we’ve had two or three different educational meetings put on by our stake RS presidency, and have included a doctor. It was also combined with general emergency preparedness.

    H1N1, as I understand it, is generally only slightly more dangerous than the seasonal flu, but more contagious, as no one would have any immunity from previous exposures. However, for pregnant women, the fatality rate, although still low, is six times higher than the general population, so extra concern is justified (CDC website for information).

    We have already had a couple of cases in our ward of swine flu, including the wife of a Microsoft employee who was in Singapore when his wife became ill, with 4 small kids. Our ward got someone (single sister) to come stay with her until her husband arrived back, which took 2 days, and my wife and I did a midnight prescription run for her.

    We are putting hand sanitizer in our rest rooms and mother’s room, more stringent handwashing for the young men preparing the sacrament, and the missionaries in our mission have been told to not shake hands. That has not become a standard, though, for the rest of us. Lame missionary fist bumps are painful to watch.

    As an example of how contagious this can be, when Washington State University started sessions the beginning of September, H1N1 hit like a cloudburst, with over 2,300 confirmed or suspected cases over a 4 week period amongst mostly healthy (and highly social) 18 to 25 year olds, out of a total student population of about 19,000.

    Finally, while this may just be like a slightly more troublesome regular flu season, flu viruses tend to mutate rapidly, usually to a milder form, but not always. The second wave of the 1918 influenza epidemic proved to be more virulent than the first.

  50. @46 –

    The Oakland temple always seats people that way unless it’s too crowded. Makes it easier for folks to move around and get the stuff done that needs to be done.

    As a primary teacher, if sick kids show up in my classroom, they are immediately escorted to parents, no matter where the parents are serving, and told, “your child is too sick for church today. please go home now. We’ll see you when you’re feeling better.” Followed up with a mid-week phone call to say, hope you’re doing well.

  51. merrybits says:

    #44 Last week a priest was coughing into his hand as he prepared the bread.

    Heh. During our ward’s Halloween party, one kid coughed all his way down the buffet table. Seriously, every pot luck dish, dessert and beverage was coughed upon. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the blessing on the food covers the *possible* H1N1 swamped chili!

  52. Thomas Parkin says:

    First we killed all the pigs within ward boundaries, and now we’ve sold our homes and are moving to Western Missouri. I had a garage sale and now all my earthly possessions, not counting my computer, fit on the back of my burro. It might seem extreme to you, but we believe that God speaks to our bishop concerning the needs and wants of the members of the ward. That is a part of his heavy burden. ~

  53. #39
    Thank you for the suggestions for alternatives to chlorine bleach. Chlorine bleach is highly restricted in LDS buildings and should never be used around children.
    As for hand sanitizers, the kinds which contain alcohol have caused some serious health problems with children as well. Washing hands well with soap and warm water is still the best way to get rid of germs.
    Of course, the best way of all is to STAY HOME if there is any illness in the family. I am disabled and have a compromised immune system. I can assure you that there are probably several people in every ward with similar issues (and most people are unaware of who these people are).

  54. Porter Rockwell says:

    I am curious why does shutting down drinking fountains help? Seems like overreaction.

  55. There are a lot of crazy claims about sanitizers out there, and you have to read the fine print. Putting alcohol in the hands of children is a bad idea and the skinwear stuff only kills at 99.9% of germs which is the same as soap and water. I really love this one because it kills 99.999% for up to 30 minutes and it is alcohol-free: http://www.cleanphirst.com/store/alcohol_free_foam_hand_sanitizer.asp

    They also have decontamination cleaning products and automatic pumps for large facilities…

  56. Well, I once sat in a planning commission where it was discussed to blow up a bridge and blockade the highway if worst came to worst…. but I bet you can guess what state that was in? :)

    It was a good plan though!

  57. Is this post serious?

    For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for be that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore be receiveth no reward.

    Having the bishop tell you that you can stay home when sick? Use your brain people.

    Also – don’t believe all you hear about H1N1. Fact is most are NOT H1N1.


  58. “Today we sat in every other row so deacons can pass to each individual. All priests and deacons wore gloves. Instead of putting cups back in the tray, someone came along behind with a bag where you put your cup. Individuals still take the bread and water though.”

    Please tell me you’re joking about all that? I can picture Michael Jackson passing the sacrament wearing a white glove… get a grip people. Leaders have a responsibility to remain calm and NOT feed into this hype.

  59. re: shaking hands

    I understand that we need to shake everyone’s hands to ensure that they are not an angel of darkness. Am I wrong about that?

  60. “I understand that we need to shake everyone’s hands to ensure that they are not an angel of darkness. Am I wrong about that?”

    Yes, you are. It’s a tradition of European society that has been around for centuries.

  61. Kim, I doubt the Europeans knew Joseph’s key to uncovering evil angels!

  62. Uh, they were Masons, Steve; of course they knew.

  63. No one in church has said zip about illness/H1N1 here. Like it would help anyway. The kid behind me in sacrament mtg coughed on the back of my neck for several minutes, and when he was finally done, I heard his father tell him to cover his mouth. Thanks. I got sick that night and was very sick the rest of the week ! It’s not just the elderly and immune-compromised people that should be careful – it”s also those of us who are uninsured !!

  64. I was driving late Saturday Night home from a play my head felt like it was going to explode. Pain I’ve never felt before and I have had a migrane before.. it was so much worse. I luckily was able to pull over into a parking lot of an abandoned factory. I saw headlights so I flashed my headlights. Luckily it was a security guard who could send for an ambulance. I had a cell phone but the pain was so intense I couldn’t dial or think straight. So I am at home with a viral spinal meningitis and a huge hospital bill including a trip in an ambulance besides lost work time. When people choose to come out sick while contagious they spread their virus to you and if your body chooses it sends the virus to the menges in the brain. It’s dangerous and expensive to your health an wallet. Please don’t come out sick. I was supposed to give a talk on Sunday I stayed
    home and my husband gave it. Thanks for listening.

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