Interim Guidance for Administrators and Leaders of Community- and Faith-Based Organizations to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Community- and faith-based organizations (CFBOs), working together with schools, businesses, healthcare systems, and state, local, tribal, and territorial health departments, have an important role in slowing the spread of diseases, especially among high risk populations.
- Guidance for CFBOs is organized into three categories based on the level of community transmission: 1) when there is no community transmission (preparedness phase), 2) when there is minimal to moderate community transmission, and 3) when there is substantial community transmission.
- Guidance is also provided for what to do when a person who is a confirmed COVID-19 case has been in your facility, regardless of the level of community transmission.
- All decisions about implementing these strategies (e.g., alteration or reduction of services, event cancellations, other social distancing measures) should be made locally, in collaboration with local health officials who can help determine the level of transmission in the community. Information about level of transmission is available in CDC’s framework for mitigation pdf icon[10 pages].
This interim guidance is based on what is currently known about the transmission and severity of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will update this guidance as needed and as additional information becomes available. Please check the following CDC website periodically for updated interim guidance.
Health officials are working to prevent COVID-19 from entering and spreading in US communities. CFBOs play an important role in this effort. In coordination with local health departments, CFBOs can share information about the disease, how it spreads, and who is at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. CFBOs should take steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 when needed.
CFBOs should review, update, or develop and implement emergency plans for the organization, with special consideration for individuals at increased risk of severe illness. Organizational emergency plans should complement other community mitigation strategies to protect high risk populations, avoid overwhelming the healthcare system, minimize disruption to essential services, and protect individuals from social stigma and discrimination. Plans should build on everyday practices (e.g., encouraging healthy hygiene practices, cleaning frequently touched surfaces, communicating clearly and regularly). Strategies should be based on whether a confirmed COVID-19 case has been in your facility, the level of community transmission, characteristics of the community, and the local capacity to implement strategies.
Who is this guidance for?
This interim guidance is intended for administrators and leaders of CFBOs – congregations and places of worship (churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc.), voluntary social service agencies and other nonprofit organizations, and community organizations.
Why is this guidance being issued?
This guidance is intended to help CFBOs prevent the transmission of COVID-19 within their facilities and communities. CFBOs need to be able to react quickly if there is a confirmed COVID-19 case among staff, volunteers, the people they serve, or visitors. The guidance includes considerations to help administrators and leaders plan for the continuity of services depending on level of community spread of COVID-19.
What is the role of CFBOs in responding to COVID-19?
CFBOs, working together with schools, businesses, healthcare systems and state/territorial and local (and, if applicable, tribal) health departments, have an important role in slowing the spread of diseases, especially among high risk populations. It is important to realize that government, communities, and individuals must work together to prepare for and respond to COVID-19. A CFBO is one part of a community, local, regional, and national collaborative effort. CFBOs often serve those who are most vulnerable, such as older people and those with serious underlying health conditions – like heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes – who are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 illness. This may include members and regular attendees or people they serve as well as persons from the broader community.
How should CFBOs prepare for, and respond to, COVID-19?
CFBOs should be prepared for situations when there is local community transmission of COVID-19 and when a confirmed COVID-19 case has been in the facility, regardless of level of community transmission. The following diagram summarizes mitigation strategies that may be most appropriate for these situations.
When there is no community transmission (preparedness phase)
The most important thing to do before community transmission occurs is plan and prepare. CFBO administrators and leaders should reinforce healthy hygiene practices among their staff, volunteers, members, the people they serve, and visitors. As the global outbreak evolves, CFBOs should prepare for the possibility of community-level outbreaks. CFBOs need to be ready if, and when, COVID-19 appears in their communities. Here are some strategies: check icon
Review, update, and implement emergency operations plans (EOP). This should be done in collaboration with local health departmentsexternal icon and other relevant partners. Many CFBOs already have an EOP designed for a wide range or emergencies (e.g., natural disasters, fires). Focus on the components, or annexes, of the plans that address infectious disease outbreaks.
- Assign key leadership staff with the authority to develop, maintain, and act upon the EOP.
- Outline what the organizational structure will be during an emergency; review periodically, and revise as needed. Identify key contacts (including full-time, part-time and unpaid or volunteer staff) needed to carry out your organization’s work, with multiple back-ups. Define role and responsibilities and who is supposed to report to whom.
- Set up policies for flexible work hours, working from home, and non-penalized staff leave for personal illness or care for sick household members or children in the event of school dismissals.
- Understand the roles of federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial public health agencies and emergency responders and what guidance and assistance they can provide.
- Assign a point of contact to maximize communication between your organization and your state and local public health systems.
- Find out if your local government has a private-public emergency planning group. Build strong alliances with other community leaders, faith leaders, local businesses, schools, and other partners before local community transmission. Your input will help ensure the completeness and representativeness of your local government’s emergency operations plan.
- Identify and meet with these potential partners to learn about their planning and to educate them about the CFBOs’ plans and capabilities. Many hospital and healthcare systems, law enforcement and emergency responder organizations, schools, and businesses are also actively preparing for and/or responding to COVID-19. For example, hospitals are planning for potential large numbers of people who become very ill simultaneously and businesses are planning for how to continue operating during an emergency. However, many of these groups may be unaware that a CFBO could offer valuable resources to its communities during the COVID-19 response.
- Partner with congregations or organizations within existing associations, networks or denominations, and neighborhoods. Methods for collaborative efforts—such as large organizations supporting smaller ones or several smaller organizations working together—need to be developed to keep organizations running during an emergency. State, local, tribal, or territorial government will be able to help CFBOs coordinate with other national and local efforts.
- Update the emergency communication plan for distributing timely and accurate information.
- Identify everyone in your chain of communication (e.g., staff, volunteers, and key community partners and stakeholders) and establish systems for sharing information.
- Maintain up-to-date contact information.
- Identify multiple methods, such as a hotline, automated text messaging, a website, email, and/or mail to help disseminate information to those inside and outside your organization. Having back-up methods is important in case services are interrupted, such as when internet access is down.
- Designate an experienced person or persons who can take calls. Ask persons who might normally respond to calls for your organization to volunteer during an emergency, to facilitate the best use of their skills and experience.
- Develop information-sharing systems with partners, including local health officials.
- Ensure the EOP includes mitigation strategies such as social
distancing; altering, reducing, or suspending services; and facility
closure that may be used to stop or slow the spread of COVID-19. The
plan should include strategies for continuity of all essential services
in the event of facility closure or other community-wide mitigation
- Identify services and activities (e.g. religious worship services, meetings, and classes) that might need to be limited or temporarily discontinued during an outbreak. Find alternative solutions that will ensure continuity for the people you serve, especially vulnerable populations such as older adults, persons with underlying health conditions, and persons with disabilities.
- Identify ways to address social, emotional, spiritual, physical, and safety needs that may be impacted by community mitigation strategies.
- Ensure the EOP emphasizes everyday preventive actions. These
include, for example, avoiding close contact with people who are sick;
staying home when sick, except to get medical care; appropriately
covering coughs and sneezes; cleaning and disinfecting frequently
touched surfaces; and washing hands often.
- CDC has workplace resources such as posters about staying home when sick pdf icon[1 page] and how to avoid spreading germs at work pdf icon[1 page].
- Religious leaders should decide whether to modify specific religious
rites, rituals, and services, consulting with local health officials as
needed. Examples of specific preventive actions include:
- Nodding, bowing, or waving instead of shaking hands, hugging, or kissing.
- Avoiding holding hands during the service/prayers.
- Modifying the method for collecting regular financial contributions – using a stationary collection box, the mail, or electronic methods – instead of passing a collection tray.
- Considering modification of practices that are specific to
particular faith traditions. For example, congregations that practice
Communion could consider modifying or suspending this practice.
Modifications could include:
- Ensuring that religious leaders always wash their hands or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol prior to conducting the service and Communion.
- Placing the Communion elements in the recipient’s hand, not on their tongue, and avoiding use of a common cup.
Teach and reinforce healthy hygiene practices.
- Train staff and volunteers on healthy hygiene practices.
- Communicate the importance of healthy hygiene practices with members and visitors.
- Ensure handwashing strategies include washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not available and hands are not visibly *****, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- CDC offers several free handwashing resources that include health promotion materials, information on proper handwashing technique, and tips for families to help children develop good handwashing habits. Consider hanging signs in bathrooms as an extra reminder.
- Ensure adequate supplies (e.g., soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer, tissue) to support healthy hygiene practices.
Intensify cleaning and disinfection efforts.
- Routinely (at least once per day, if possible) clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that are frequently touched. This may include cleaning objects/surfaces not ordinarily cleaned daily (e.g., doorknobs, light switches, classroom sink handles, countertops). Clean with the cleaners typically used. Use all cleaning products according to the directions on the label. For disinfection, most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective. A list of products that are EPA-approved for use against the virus that causes COVID-19 is available herepdf iconexternal icon. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., concentration, application method and contact time, etc.).
- Provide EPA-registered disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (e.g., keyboards, desks, remote controls) can be wiped down.
- Ensure adequate cleaning and disinfection supplies.
Monitor and plan for absenteeism. Require sick staff and volunteers to stay home.
- Require staff to stay home when sick, even without documentation from doctors. Use flexibility, when possible, to allow staff to stay home to care for sick family or household members or care for children in the event of school dismissals. Develop flexible telework policies as appropriate.
- Identify critical job functions and positions, and plan for alternative coverage by cross-training staff to help ensure that essential jobs will be covered if people must miss work.
- Identify jobs that can be performed at home. A system using emailed or telephoned messages to homebound staff and volunteers can be used to relay work assignments.
- Set up flexible work hours and schedules (e.g., staggered shifts) for essential jobs to limit the number of people who must gather at the workplace at one time.
- Determine what level of staff and volunteer absenteeism will disrupt continuity of services.
- Review the usual absenteeism patterns at your organization among staff, volunteers, and regular members and people you serve.
- Alert local health officials about large increases in absenteeism, particularly if absences appear due to respiratory illnesses (like the common cold or the “flu,” which have symptoms similar to COVID-19).
Determine when to cancel or postpone non-essential gatherings and events.
- Follow the directions of your state and local authorities.
- Guidance from the White House as of March 21, 2020 states that for
the next 15 days beginning March 16, 2020, avoid social gatherings of 10
or more people.
- https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/coronavirus-guidelines-america/external icon
- Be sure to regularly review the latest recommendations from the White Houseexternal icon and CDC for all types of gatherings.
- General considerations for making decisions about cancelling, postponing, or modifying gatherings:
- Local health officials can inform decisions, which should be based on directions of state and local authorities as well as level of community transmission or impact of COVID-19, size of the gathering, and participation by high risk populationspdf icon.
- Consider which gatherings (e.g., youth events, religious services, religious education, support groups) might put persons in close proximity to each other as well as which gatherings would include persons traveling from locations with moderate to substantial community transmission.
- Encourage high risk populations not to attend and offer alternative (e.g., phone, online, or recorded) ways for them to participate.
- Consider small gatherings with inclusion of additional participants via phone or online (live or recorded) options.
- Modify all gatherings to incorporate social distancing measures.
Establish procedures for persons who are sick at the facility.
- Establish procedures to separate persons who show up sick or become sick at the facility from others, until they can safely leave and/or seek medical care.
- Have a supply of disposable facemaskspdf icon, if possible. Note: Disposable facemasks are for persons with respiratory symptoms. A person who becomes sick should be given a clean disposable facemask to wear until they can safely leave and/or seek medical care.
- If needed, arrange transportation for persons who need medical care.
- Notify the transporter and the receiving healthcare facility that the person has signs and symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 so that appropriate infection control precautions may be taken.
- Provide the sick person with a disposable facemask, if available, and keep them separated from others as much as possible.
- Use ventilation in the vehicle by opening car windows or using the ventilation system on non-recirculated mode.
- Do not use public transportation, ridesharing, or taxis to transport the ill person.
- Remember that non-healthcare CFBOs are not expected to screen persons to identify potential cases of COVID-19. If a community (or more specifically, a CFBO) has cases of COVID-19, local health officials will help identify those persons and will follow up on next steps.
- Share resources with staff, volunteers, members, and the people you serve to increase understanding of when to stay home. Provide instruction to call their clinicians if they are sick, and 911 for emergencies.
- For organizations that assist with or oversee homeless shelters or similar facilities, review COVID-19-related guidance for homeless shelters for additional planning considerations.
Create and test communications for staff, volunteers, members, and the people you serve.
- Consult with local health officials to ensure dissemination of accurate and timely information.
- Consider sharing information about steps being taken by the CFBO to prepare and how additional information, such as notice of facility closure, will be shared.
- Reiterate steps individuals can take to stay healthy and guidance that they should stay home if sick. Address the concerns of staff, volunteers, members, and the people you serve who are at higher risk for COVID-19 complications.
- Consider sharing the following fact sheets and information sources:
- Information about COVID-19 available through state and localexternal icon health departments
- General CDC fact sheets to help staff and students’ families understand COVID-19 and the steps they can take to protect themselves:
- CDC information for individuals who have recently traveled or plan to travel to areas where CDC has identified community spread of COVID-19:
- Test communication methods periodically to make sure you are effectively reaching staff, volunteers, members, and the people you serve.
- Identify and address potential language, cultural, and disability barriers associated with communicating COVID-19 information. Examples of communications resources include reaching people of diverse languages and cultures and communicating to workers in a crisisexternal icon. Messages, materials, and resources from academic sources may need to be framed or adapted so they are culturally appropriate for your audience, easy to understand, and presented in the context of shared values and honored traditions.
- Consider your organization’s contribution to addressing rumors, misinformation, fear, and anxiety.
- CFBOs play a vital role in maintaining community morale and cohesion, especially if large gatherings and other community assemblies are cancelled. People will need to be able to receive timely, reliable information from their religious and community leaders.
- Advise staff, members, and persons in the communities you serve to review and follow information provided by public health authorities—state, local, tribal, and territorial health departments, emergency management agencies, and CDC.
- Address and counteract fear and anxiety that may result from rumors or misinformation. For more information, see:
- Help counter stigma and discrimination in your community. Engage with stigmatized groups and speak out against negative behaviors. For more information, see: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/related-stigma.html.
Review CDC’s guidance for businesses and employers.
- Review this CDC guidance to identify any additional strategies the organization can use, given its role as an employer.