COVID-19: CEOs of Hospital Systems Ask Churches in Greater Houston Not to Reopen Until June

Updated: Apr 27, 2020


Dr. David Callender, CEO of Memorial Hermann discusses COVID-19 cluster outbreaks in churches, face masks; the Statement of Greater Houston Churches to not reopen until June and the request for all churches to do the same by all CEOs of Texas Medical Center.

"We're all familiar with the cluster outbreaks in nursing homes. And while those have been very much in the news and more frequent, there also have been cluster outbreaks associated with churches. . .understanding that risk and the risks of a cluster outbreak in general, we'd like to avoid the churches reconvening their members in large groups. So we can avoid that potential negative impact in a community if a lot of infection is transmitted."

Mentioned Resources:

Memorial Hermann

The Texas Medical Center

Statement of Churches

Houston Responds Masks for All

Houston Responds COVID-19 Resources


Transcript:

Tommy Rosson:

Thank you for joining us today. This is Tommy Rosson with Houston Responds and I'm very blessed to be joined by Dr. David Callender, the CEO of Memorial Hermann Healthcare System. Thank you for joining us.


Dr. David Callender:

Thank you for having me, Tommy. It's great to be with you.


Tommy Rosson:

Thank you for the leadership that you've provided for churches. The Texas Medical Center and the CEOs have been such an asset to the faith community and your willingness to talk to us directly and give projections. As you think about churches and their role in the community, what kind of risk are associated with churches, especially as we begin to reconsider what reopening looks like?


Dr. David Callender:

Well, you know, any large gathering of people increases the risk for transmission of COVID-19 and large gatherings of people close together, particularly those where people are more likely to touch each other, to hug, to want to be close to someone in the group just increases the risk. And so churches we believe are that special circumstance and I happen to be a Christian myself, profess the Christian faith. And I know when my family and I are in church, we want to be close to our fellow members. We want to talk with them. That human touch in terms of the experience is very important. And so, you know, unfortunately, when we're in that situation, we just sort of want to behave like we always do at this time. That's risky. And so, to those of us in the healthcare profession, we're concerned about large gatherings of people and particularly those in which people are likely to want to be close. They're going to want to be close together and to shake hands to hug those sorts of things.


Tommy Rosson:

During this pandemic, have we seen that churches have been an epicenter of outbreaks, and have they been, are the outbreaks when they happen in a church, are those worse than different areas?


Dr. David Callender:

Yeah, we've seen cluster outbreaks around the world, and in those communities that have experienced cluster outbreaks, it's had a pretty negative impact on the community. We're all familiar with the cluster outbreaks in nursing homes. And while those have been very much in the news and more frequent, there also have been cluster outbreaks associated with churches. A couple in this country, in fact, had been in the news. And so, understanding that risk and the risks of a cluster outbreak in general, we'd like to avoid the churches reconvening their members in large groups. So we can avoid that potential negative impact in a community if a lot of infection is transmitted.


Tommy Rosson:

There is a statement of churches in greater Houston that y'all have supported and even requested that no gatherings above 50 people for the next, don't consider it until June. The churches that have signed this statement have said that they're not even gonna consider having worship services until at least June. And like I said a second ago, the Texas Medical Center has supported this and it is actually requesting it of the greater faith community in greater Houston. Why is it so important that we have a common approach to this?


Dr. David Callender:

Well, again, we want to avoid that potential for a cluster outbreak. You know, in general, when you get groups of larger than 50 people together, even if they're very aware of the social distancing needs, they want to comply and do everything they can, it's just harder to maintain that approach. Particularly as we enter and exit buildings. Typically hallways are narrower, people are closer. And so when we move beyond 50 people, it increases the risk for transmission of the illness. So it's our advice and really requests, particularly to churches, that they not gather members in groups of larger than 50. So we can reduce that risk.


Tommy Rosson:

And when we talk about groups of 50 and we'll have to deal with this issue, as it's groups of 50, 100, 250, or however these stages of a step backward, when we think about some of these larger worship spaces, being able to spread people out, we know that's a realistic possibility. But that's very low. It's very likely that that's actually not where the disease will be spread, that we have so many more people moving through small hallways and in restrooms, how are people gonna flow through? How are you going to walk in and out of the service six feet away? So with all those concerns, how they handle cleanliness, how they handle turnover, how they handle spacing is all gonna be really important. As leading a healthcare system, what does that look like to you in regards to, it's always an option for you to have an infectious disease in your hospital. So how do you approach the cleanliness and handling situations where you can expect people to have an infectious disease?


Dr. David Callender:

Yeah, we're pretty used to dealing with transmissible infectious disease. In fact disease, it's highly transmissible like COVID. And so our approach has always been to limit the risk for infection, to provide the appropriate protection for patients and our workers and to make sure that we are constantly cleaning and sanitizing all the surfaces that can harbor the bacteria or the virus or whatever the agent is that causes the infection. And that's something to think about as we go forward. It's not just about maintaining social distancing, it's also about achieving that level of cleanliness and sanitation on commonly touched surfaces that will be important to reducing the risk.


Tommy Rosson:

When we look at this idea of when are we going to reopen, when can we get back together? I know many churches of thinking about what we can do this, we can make sure everybody wears masks. We can take all these steps, but realistically, we need to be looking at this six months, nine months down the road because this virus is going to stay in our community and we're going to be at risk of an outbreak, ongoing. Can you talk a little bit about that?