How Risky Is Going To Church?

In our series "What's the Risk?" experts weigh in on what risks different scenarios pose for transmitting COVID-19.

How Risky Is Going To Church?

When it comes to getting sick with COVID-19, you might be thinking about this, and we have, too. Jane Kilburn asked, "What will be the risk when I return to church?"

We asked the experts: Dr. Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Cleveland Clinic; Katie Cary, vice president of infection prevention for HCA Continental Division; and Dr. Irfan N. Hafiz, infectious disease physician and Northwest Region chief medical officer at Northwestern Medicine.

Their take: The risk of contracting COVID-19 from returning to church is high.

"Definitely more risk for a church service inside versus outside. Any time you're outside and you have a lot of fresh air and to maintain social distance, it would be safer. But when you're inside and people are singing and in close proximity, it definitely would be higher risk of transmission, especially if there's inconsistent mask wear or people ... are closer than they should be," Cary said. 

"If they can do some hand-washing, some screening, universal masking, that has really been the key to get Illinois to where we're at right now is that universal passing. And we do see it a lot in our in the community and stuff. So I think that's really the key there," Hafiz said. 

"What is the church doing to help protect ... their constituents? You know, people wearing masks, are they able to spread out in the church? How is the ventilation in the church? I know that a lot of churches have moved to other online services, especially during the height of the pandemic, but also have moved to outdoor venues and large tents in the parking lot or in the surrounding lawns. Those are probably the best things that you could do to go back to church. It's very, very important. However, if we're going to get a lot of people in a very crowded church and many of those people are individuals who are at ... higher ages or at risk of getting very severe disease, that would be a much higher risk. That's probably one of the highest-risk things on the list right now," Esper said.

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