DALLAS, Ga.—Johnny Nix of Pickett's Mill Baptist Church has asked volunteers to consider staying away.
Like so many other churches, Nix and the Dallas, Ga., church he leads are locked in a battle with the flu.
"We've instructed our volunteers and workers to postpone coming by for a couple of weeks if they or someone in their family has had it," Nix said. "That may seem a little extreme, but we're taking every precaution necessary."
And Pickett's Mill isn't awash in volunteers. "It's very difficult when you're short on workers," said Nix, who began at the church last June. "But it's necessary to provide the safest environment for our church family."
The Centers for Disease Control, in its latest report on Jan. 6, stated that 49 states have reported "widespread influenza activity."
Dan Jernigan, director of the CDC's influenza division, said in a Jan. 12 media briefing, "What we're seeing is the season has started early and that it's probably peaking right about now.... In terms of the numbers, this week ... there's 22.7 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the United States. That's up from 13.7 last week, so that's almost doubling in terms of the numbers, just in the last week."
Prompted by such reports, churches are taking extra steps. At Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins, Ga., hand sanitizer stations have been placed on the walls around the lobby and auditorium and in each nursery and children's room, pastor Jim Perdue said.
During the cold and flu season, Perdue added, the church usually skips the normal welcome time to prevent germs from spreading via hundreds of handshakes.
At First Baptist Church in Cartersville, Ga., members and visitors were encouraged to replace handshakes with a "warm wave" during the welcome time.
Lisa Lovett, First Baptist's children's ministry director, also sent an email to parents and volunteers addressing the flu. Normally, a 24-hour rule is followed for how long a sick child should stay away from Sunday school. Lovett encouraged that the time frame extend back to Friday. If a child was sick on Thursday, she asked parents to call church staff to determine if it's safe for them to be there Sunday morning.
At Second Baptist, preschool coordinator Donise Woodrich and children's pastor Ben Hunley work to take appropriate measures for the church's youngest attendees through recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics Infectious Disease Control.
As such, Second Baptist urges any children or volunteers to stay home if they've experienced flu-like symptoms. Those include a fever reaching 100.4, vomiting or diarrhea within the last 24 hours.
Joel Southerland, pastor of Peavine Baptist Church in Rock Springs, Ga., recounted that disinfectant foggers, which worked well at a church where he previously pastored, are being considered at Peavine.
Southerland heard about the devices from a school employee. Most recently, the school system in Hartselle, Ala., has been using foggers to spray disinfectant after 13 percent of its student body was out because of the flu.
The CDC's Jernigan noted to the media, "... if you look at seasons like this one that we're having, there's at least 11 to 13 more weeks of influenza to go." (BP)