Expert Offers Church Reopening Tips

Alyce Weaver Dunn



Today I had to opportunity to join a Zoom conversation about reopening church with Dr. Joseph G. Allen, an internationally known expert on the topic of Healthy Buildings. The session was sponsored by the Boston Collaborative, a connection of churches, non-profit organizations and Christians in the workplace. 

Dr. Allen's work has been featured widely in the popular press, including the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, National Geographic, Time, NPR, Newsweek, Washington Post, and Fortune. An associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, he directs the Healthy Buildings program and created "The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building"  to optimize indoor environments for health.

 Dr. Allen’s research is widely published in academic journals and he is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology. He earned his Doctor of Science (DSc) and Master of Public Health (MPH) degrees from the Boston University School of Public Health, and a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Biology from Boston College. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (C.I.H.) and has been involved with infectious disease research and control strategies for over 12 years. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he has appeared on television as a leading expert and published op-eds in newspapers translating science into actionable tips for the public.

The following are highlights shared by Dr. Allen during the Zoom meeting.

1) Buildings can be key in fighting disease.

  • Having access to fresh air is important in preventing the spread of the virus. 
  • Opening windows is a first step. 
  • Having a good ventilation system is important as well.  Upgrade the system if it is inadequate.
  • Consider Cubic Feet per Minute per Person (CFM): when you decrease the number of people in a space, you increase the availability of fresh air per person
  • De-densification: while in buildings, opportune to have fewer people and shorter activities (i.e. worship)
  • Older buildings that are “leaky” or “drafty” actually promote better air circulation
  • Place box fans in windows to draw air in and out
  • Place portable air purifiers (with HEPA filter) to cleanse the air (sized correctly for the size of the room)
  • If possible, supplemental HEPA filtration will help keep the air clean in a building (may be costly to install)
  • If the space if air conditioned, the recirculated air needs to be filtered; MERV-13 level is needed to help prevent the spread of virus
  • Air change per hour is important; the more air changes per hour, the better; for example, if the air change rate is 3 per hour, every 20 minutes there is fresh air. 

2) Key Elements to Make Indoor Worship or Activity Safer

  • Access to Outdoor Air
  • Proper Ventilation
  • Good Filtration
  • Physical Distancing
  • Wearing Masks

3) Five Layered Defense to Getting Back to Work and/or Worship

  • Hazard Elimination: work at home, worship online
  • Personnel Substitution: only core people at work or in church
  • Engineering Controls: proper ventilation and filtration of air
  • Administrative Controls: safety features are established (traffic flow, sanitize, etc.)
  • Personal Protection Equipment: wearing masks is critical to safely returning to work or church 

4) Covid-19 Spreads Easily

Transmission of the Virus
  • Droplets: expelled when we talk; spread when we inhale droplets
  • Surfaces: virus can spread by touching a surface someone with the virus has touched
  • Airborne particles: aerosolized particles can be in air for hours; risk increases in indoor space
  • Analogy of Smoking: if someone is smoking, the closer you are to that person, the more likely you will smell or inhale the smoke; the further away you are from the person, the less likely you will smell or inhale the smoke; an airborne virus spreads through the air just like smoke does; importance of physical distancing to be out of range of the particles
  • Avoid groups: higher risk of transmission
  • Practice Social Distancing (6 feet)
Wear Face Coverings
  • 3-layer masks are the best – multiple layers help capture a greater rate of particles
  • 100% cotton mask is better, though, than no mask
  • A tighter fit around the nose and mouth is better
  • Helps for you not to spread the virus to others
  • Slows down the speed of our breath: less chance to project particles
Singing not recommended.
  • It projects more particles than talking and at greater distances
  1. Definitely no singing in indoor spaces!   Airborne virus can build up in the air over time.
  • Maybe can sing outdoors: but still practicing social distancing AND wearing a mask
The Covid-19 virus has been found in human stool
  • Flushing a toilet can make the virus airborne
  • When using restrooms in buildings and churches, the exhaust fan should be on at all times to reduce the spread of virus 

5) Miscellaneous Items

  • Outdoor worship is good but still should practice social distancing and wear masks
  • Small group meetings possible if the following is observed:
  1. Preferably outdoors
  2. Have assurance that members of the group are following safety protocol in their everyday life or else you invite risk that affects everyone in the group
  3. If meeting indoors, open windows, have a portable air cleaner in use, limit the number of participants
  4. If the group meets on a regular basis, keep the circle the same; this is not the time to widen the circle and invite new people to the group

6) Resources and Links Provided


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