BALTIMORE – As more and more cases of the Novel coronavirus named COVID-19 are detected across the country, groups and organizations, including Pagans, that host public gatherings are faced with the possibility of having to postpone or outright cancel scheduled events in an effort to help slow the spread of the virus.
The situation is very fluid and the number of reported infections changes constantly. Washington D.C.’s NBC affiliate, WRC, has reported that several individuals have been tested for the virus, and The Washington Post reported On March 6 three confirmed cases in Maryland’s Montgomery County. As of today, that number has climbed to five in D.C., six in Maryland, and seven in Virginia according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at John Hopkins University.
Accordingly, organizations throughout the region are on high alert and have begun to take precautions when hosting group events.
“We haven’t yet scaled back on our activities as a result of the concerns, though we are paying attention to the advice of medical professionals and will do so if it is necessary,” said David Dashifen Kees of Firefly House, a Washington D.C. based pan-Pagan organization. “Our calendar is just getting started this year, so we haven’t had to change our procedures yet, but if or when we do, the likelihood that we cancel events would be high.”
In Frederick, MD, about forty-five miles northwest of Washington D.C., the situation was similar.
“We have not yet had to cancel or scale back an event, but we are keeping a very close eye on the evolving body of knowledge about coronavirus and we plan to adjust our offerings to best support the health and safety of our community,” explained Irene Glasse, President of the Frederick Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS).
Precautions, however, have already been put in place.
“We are fortunate in that we are based out of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick,” said Glasse.“The UUCF has wall mounted hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the building as well as two multi-stall and multi-sink restrooms. We are reminding our attendees to wash their hands regularly and take advantage of the hand sanitizer dispensers. We are also encouraging folks who feel under the weather to exercise more caution than usual about attending events and stay home.”
Back in Washington D.C., Kees is also thinking about precautions and looking ahead to possible changes in programming.
“We host most of our activities in public spaces, libraries, and parks usually,” he explained. “It’s possible that some of our activities could move into more private spaces where no apparent sickness is present, but the long incubation for COVID-19 means that even that might only be the illusion of safety. For our classes and workshops, we could move things online, but for in-person ritual or ceremonial activities, we’ll likely just cancel or, when possible, reschedule.”
Glasse pointed out another challenge that will sound familiar to Pagans everywhere.
“Historically, our community has been very physically affectionate – people frequently greet each other with hugs. In a recent email to the student body attending a Blackfeather Mystery School training, we are encouraging people to consider alternate forms of greeting – elbow bumps, waving, or bringing back the bow. We are also reminding people to obtain consent before initiating physical contact. That latter reminder is always good policy but is especially important now. It’s impossible to tell by looking whether someone is immunocompromised.”
Similarly, the board of the upcoming Sacred Space/Between the Worlds Conference, to be held in early April in Hunt Valley, MD, posted a statement regarding Coronavirus, plans to hold the conference as scheduled, and suggestions for avoiding getting or spreading the virus while at the event.
Alan O’Connor, a second-degree priest with Coven of the Pale Moon Wolf in Baltimore, MD, echoed the thought that group events will continue to be held as scheduled.
O’Connor said that while he is not personally worried about getting sick he is very concerned about the vulnerability of individuals with weakened immune systems in the current environment, and like Glasse, he has taken note of the need to strongly consider curtailing common physical demonstrations of friendship.
“I bet we may not exchange kisses or hugs,” he observed.
When asked if this public health crisis feels different from past threats both Kees and Glass agreed that people seem to be paying more attention and expressing more concern this time around.
“As for DC,” said Kees, “life moves on. We haven’t had a confirmed case here, though I personally suspect that it’s only a matter of time. It doesn’t feel different yet, though the awareness of the virus is high and, if nothing else, water-cooler conversations at work reveals that people are worried about it more than I’ve experienced before.”
In Frederick, Glasse has made similar observations.
“I think there’s a lot of uncertainty around coronavirus and that makes it a more challenging public health situation,” she said. “What we know about the virus is still evolving. Moreover, since many people who get coronavirus have mild symptoms, the risk of transmission is very high. Although we’ve had bad cold and flu seasons in the past, I think this situation is unique. I can’t remember a previous situation that necessitated the same caution and preparedness.”
The Wild Hunt will continue to follow the progress of COVID-19 outbreaks and report on any events that reschedule or cancel.
Here are some resources for understanding how the virus functions, preparedness, and tracking of the most current information: