LITTLE ROCK, ARK. (March 11, 2020) – With the recent announcement by the World Health Organization that COVID-19 is now a global pandemic and the announcement of the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Arkansas, the Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church has made the difficult but necessary decision to cancel all upcoming events until further notice.

This is difficult territory for the Conference, but we are paying close attention to the evolving situation in order to make the best decisions we can based on information provided to us by the CDC.

COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, has spread rapidly throughout the world and has affected many people in states surrounding the Arkansas Conference. The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Arkansas was announced on Wednesday, March 11 by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, at a press conference.

Upcoming events — including two events led by the Rev. Susan Beaumont, How To Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going and Stepping up to Supervision — have been canceled in order to better protect our clergy and laity from the potential spread of COVID-19. We are exploring the possibility of live streaming these events and more information will be provided soon.

The Family Conversations meetings, arumc.org/family-conversations/, have also been canceled until further notice.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have made the very difficult decision to suspend all future gatherings of large groups of people within the Arkansas Conference. We have many people who will be traveling within the state and from out-of-state to attend these events, and in an effort to protect the most vulnerable among us from contracting the virus, we are taking the necessary steps to prevent its spread,” said Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Conference.

“Please join me in praying for everyone affected by this virus, and pray for the safety and well-being of the entire world as we fight off this pandemic.”

As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout our communities, we want to make sure clergy, laity and all leaders of churches are prepared for a potential outbreak.

Local Church Leaders: Plan & Prepare
Below are guidelines for faith leaders, found on the CDC’s website, that will better prepare you to make important decisions for your congregation and your community.

  • Update your emergency operations plan with the help of your local public health department, emergency operations coordinator or planning team, and other relevant partners to include COVID-19 planning.
  • Identify space that can be used to separate sick people if needed.
  • Develop an emergency communication plan for distributing timely and accurate information to workers and those you serve.
  • Identify actions to take if you need to temporarily postpone or cancel events, programs, and services, especially for groups at greater risk such as older adults or people with chronic health conditions.
  • Promote the practice of everyday preventative actions.
    • Frequently wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
    • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or use the inside of your elbow.
    • Clean frequently touched objects and surfaces.
    • Stay home when sick.
  • Provide COVID-19 prevention supplies at your organization (e.g., soap, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, tissues, trash baskets, and a couple of disposable facemasks, just in case someone becomes sick during an event).
  • Plan for staff absences by developing flexible attendance and sick-leave policies, plan for alternative coverage and monitor and track COVID-19 related staff absences.
  • Engage with stigmatized groups and speak out against negative behaviors to help counter stigma and discrimination.

Important Steps for Everyone to Take (If COVID-19 is in your community)

  • Stay informed about local COVID-19 information and updates.
  • Put your emergency operations and communication plans into action.
  • Communicate with your community members if events and services are changed, postponed, or canceled.
  • Emphasize everyday preventive actions through intensified communications with employees and visitors to your organization.
  • Stay home when sick.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Wash hands often.
  • Limit close contact with others as much as possible (about 6 feet).
  • During an event, if someone becomes sick separate them into an isolated room and ask them to leave as soon as possible.

*All information gathered from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website, cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html

For up-to-date information regarding what you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, visit the Center for Disease Control & Prevention website at www.cdc.gov. Tips for faith and community leaders can be found here.

For questions or concerns, please contact Amy Ezell at amy.ezell@arumc.org, 501-324-8030.