Should We Gather or Not?

Should We Gather or Not?

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Excitement is growing, the desire to, “resume life as normal, pre-pandemic,” is strong, but is it safe?

Southern New England Conference UCC states are beginning to ease COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, gatherings, and activities.  Despite opening vaccination to anyone over age 16, we have not reached herd immunity (70% - 80% or higher vaccination rate).

As of May 6, the fully vaccinated rate (at least two weeks past final vaccine dose) in Connecticut is 41.1%, in Massachusetts, 35%, and in Rhode Island, 38.1%.  We are blessed that on average New England is reaching higher levels of vaccination than many other states, but we need to keep going.  Between 1.5% and 3% of people tested for COVID in the area during the past week have received positive results. 
 
Vaccination numbers are improving yet hard hit communities, communities of color, are being vaccinated at lower rates than predominately white communities. For example, Hartford, CT is only 19.8% fully vaccinated. Access is still hard for people who are homebound, unable to take time off work, or get transportation to a vaccination site. State funded initiatives have begun to address this disparity through collaboration with town and community leaders, faith-based organizations, food pantries, housing authorities, peer to peer training, homebound and homeless vaccinations and more. Local departments of health can help identify hard hit populations and coordinate vaccination sites.  Maybe your church would be willing to host a vaccine clinic!
 
These state sponsored initiatives are what will help us reach herd immunity and reduce the rate of dangerous coronavirus mutations. Viruses mutate as they infect new hosts. Current mutant strains are known to spread more quickly. The longer the spread continues, the more likely a mutation will occur that will spread quickly and cause more severe disease.  We can stop the spread by getting vaccinated and continuing to wear our masks.
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Coronavirus guideline changes happening in each state

 
Connecticut
On May 19, 2021, remaining capacity limits for businesses, activities and gatherings will be lifted, however social distancing and masks indoors are still required. Capacity limits will be lifted for houses of worship with the same social distancing, mask, and cleaning guidelines. The guidelines published early in the pandemic to refrain from live singing during worship have not yet been changed.
 
Massachusetts
On May 10, 2021 restrictions on capacity for venues such as stadiums, ballparks, and arenas will increase to 25% while some outdoor activities such as amusement parks will be allowed 50% capacity. It is anticipated that singing will be allowed indoors at performance venues with strict distancing requirements. Further capacity increases are anticipated later in May and through the summer months. Masks are still required indoors and when unable to maintain social distancing outdoors. Houses of Worship are encouraged to hold services outdoors or virtually, encourage registration to manage capacity at 50 % with masks and 6ft. social distancing.
 
Rhode Island
On May 7, Rhode Island will allow 80% capacity with three ft. social distancing for houses of worship followed by 100% capacity with 3ft. distancing May 28, 2021. Masks will be required indoors and when unable to maintain 3 ft distancing outdoors.  This guidance cautions that these guidelines are safe if you are fully vaccinated. All Rhode Islanders are still advised to maintain six ft distancing from people not in their household. You can find detailed recommendations in RI Protect Your Household Guidance.
 

Are you thinking about resuming in-person worship?

This report shared recently on the SNEUCC Leadership Forum, COVID-19 NFHS Study Update provides some insight. The summary of this scientific study out of the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Maryland reminds us that outdoor events are much safer than indoor events, and masks are protective when properly fitted.

Ventilation is also a key factor in reducing virus spread along with all CDC guidelines. Brian Hehn, Director of The Center for Congregational Song discussed these findings recently on Facebook. Because infection rates and vulnerability vary greatly depending on your community, Hehn encourages us to ask some key questions before resuming in person worship and singing. Our faith will guide us as we strive to care for one another, care for those who are vulnerable, and ensure that our sanctuaries are safe spaces for all of God’s children.
 
Ask your congregation the following questions:
 
  • What are the public health department guidelines in your community?
  • What is the local infection rate?
  • How prevalent is community spread for Covid-19 variants?
  • What are the demographics of your faith community?
  • People of color, older adults, immune compromised people, high risk individuals with chronic disease, vaccinated or not vaccinated, children.
  • How effective is the ventilation in your space?
  • Can you ensure air exchange of a certain number of exchanges per hour?
  • Can you ensure that everyone wears a proper face covering?
  • Masks should be two or more layers thick, fit snuggly against the sides of your face, have a nose wire to prevent air leakage. Can you ensure that everyone’s mask fits properly without air leakage?
  • What is the risk level you are willing to accept?  Prayerfully consider your answer to this question. It will not be zero even if you do everything right.

Philippians 2:4 ESV ~ “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others”.


Resources

The CDC Guideline for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people clearly details safe and unsafe activities.
 

CDC - Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People 

CT Homebound vaccination  

CT State Houses of Worship Guidelines   

CT State Gov. Rules for Reopening

MA Homebound vaccination
 
MA State Gov. Places of Worship Checklist  
 
RI Homebound vaccination: Scroll down to “Information for Those Unable to Leave Their Home for Vaccine”
 
Reopening RI Guidelines  
 
RI Executive Order Changes 


Photo by Tim Mossholder/Unsplash  

Author

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Deborah Ringen

Deborah Ringen is the Minister of Health and Wellness for the Southern New England Conference, UCC.

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