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Coronavirus concerns changing some practices in Bay area churches, synagogues

Religious leaders are discouraging people from traditional practices during service.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — From handshakes to Holy Communion, if you haven’t already, the next time you attend a religious service here in the Tampa Bay area, you might notice some changes.

At Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Pete, Rev. Andy Oliver says they are trying to limit person-to-person contact as much as possible during Sunday services.

“We’re just trying to think of anything that’s going to be passed from one person to another,” Oliver said.

RELATED: Coronavirus threat: Florida governor declares state of emergency

Oliver says communion is now handed out with tongs, the communal chalice has been replaced by individual plastic cups and the offering plate now stays put instead of being passed around during service.

Hand sanitizers are now placed throughout the building, too, while handshakes and hugs are being discouraged when greeting people or offering a sign of peace during service.

The changes come during Lent, one of the holiest times of the year for Christians, during which Oliver says more people than usual historically attend church.

“We want to make sure that everyone who wants to come is able to gather here and do so safely,” he said.

The Catholic Dioceses of St. Petersburg issued these guidelines with best practices for preventing the spread of coronavirus to all its parishes last week.

In Washington, D.C., a reverend who distributed communion to hundreds of people tested positive for the coronavirus.

RELATED: DC reverend: 'I am the individual who tested positive for the Coronavirus'

Credit: 10News

Rabbi Joshua Hearshen at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Tampa echoed similar efforts to limit person-to-person contact through kissing, hugging and handshakes when greeting.

Hearsehn said they’re also urging people who feel sick to stay home.

What isn’t happening is the outright cancellation of services.

At least not yet.

But Oliver says it’s something they’re discussing and are prepared to do if necessary after seeing six "sibling churches" in hard-hit Seattle suspend worship this weekend and next. Oliver says they already stream their worship services online.

“We’ll continue to listen to the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and if they recommend that worship be suspended we’ll do so–we are taking this very seriously," Oliver said. 

"We’re getting mixed messages from our government and I think as long as we keep listening to doctors and scientists and the CDC, we’ll be better off and better prepared.”

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