Advent and Covid-19: Ringen, Goodwin, Discuss Guidelines for Churches

Advent and Covid-19: Ringen, Goodwin, Discuss Guidelines for Churches

As COVID-19 cases spike upward in all three Southern New England Conference states, Minister for Health and Wellness Deborah Ringen is outlining guidelines for churches holding in-person worship, including advice that congregants get vaccines and booster shots, wear well-fitting masks, use instrument covers, maintain physical distances, limit time indoors and open windows.

"Caring for others is at the foundation of our theology. We desire to keep ourselves and each other safe from infection and possibly death. We also want to maintain morale, membership and faithful spiritual practices. We can do this safely if we make sure that we keep the data and the science in mind," Ringen said in a recent video interview with Executive Conference Minister the Rev. Darrell Goodwin.

Ringen said that as of Nov. 29, the Center for Disease Control recommends that all Americans 18 years and older get a booster shot six months after completing the initial immunization series with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two months after the Johnson and Johnson vaccines.

"At the risk of being repetitive, let me say the most important step to take to limit the spread of COVID-19 is to get vaccinated and get your booster dose. Encourage others to get vaccinated. If they're resistant, listen to them. Learn what is causing their reluctance. Share reliable information from the CDC, the National Institutes of Health from your state Coronavirus website. Make sure they are well informed," she said. Ringen recommends this resource to share with those reluctant to get vaccines: A Community Toolkit for Addressing Health Misinformation

Ringen pointed out that many church sanctuaries are poorly ventilated, and that singing is known to spread the aerosols, increasing the potential for transmission of the virus.

"If your congregation chooses to resume singing indoors, there's no way to guarantee zero risk, but there are strategies to reduce the risk of transmission," she said. Those are:
  1. Wear a well-fitting multiple layer mask. A brief YouTube video by the American Chemical Society demonstrates the reduction in aerosol release when singing with a mask.  Singers, theater performers, and musicians must wear well-fitting surgical masks while singing or speaking.  More here.
  2. Consider using bell covers made of a 3-ply surgical mask for small instruments or a MERV 13 filter inside a Spandex cover for larger instruments. More here
  3. Maintain physical distance of at least 3-6 feet between performers and at least 12 feet from the audience.
  4. Limit performances to 30 minutes indoors and one hour outdoors, or 50 minutes indoors if three air exchanges or more per hour occur. The Rhode Island Department of Health provides tips to improve ventilation indoors by opening windows, using high-efficiency particulate air cleaners, or increasing the ventilation system’s air exchange rate.  The more air exchanges per hour, the lower the risk of disease spreading through the air.
  5. Open the windows even just 6 inches, across the room if possible.
  6. Limit the number of choir members as space allows to maintain physical distancing.  RI recommends 12 ft from other people if singing).
  7. Perform outdoors when possible.  
"So, tell your parishioners: wear your coats, dress warmly, wear your masks. Maybe limit the time length of your services," she said. "If you have a choir singing, maybe you need to limit the number of choir members to be in line with the space you have to allow them to be physically distanced from each other and from the audience. Performing outdoors, when possible, is also recommended."

These guidelines, and other resources, are posted on the Conference's COVID-19 page at:

Goodwin closed out the video as follows:

"What I would offer to you friends is as you continue to go through this Advent season: we of course know that this is a period of time where we are waiting. We're waiting for the Christ child to come into the world. And in the same reality, we're waiting for some sort of reprieve from the reality that we're constantly in."

"Waiting for the Coronavirus to no longer be a part of our lives is just unfortunately a reality that we may not ever see," he added. "The Coronavirus will continue to be a part of the ways in which we function in this world. But what we can do, what we don't have to wait for, is to do exactly everything that our Minister for Health and Wellness has said. We aren't waiting for a vaccine because we've been gifted one. We aren't waiting for booster shots because we've been gifted those. We aren't waiting for the flu shot because those are available ... So let's bring the light of Christ into the world this Advent season, by being responsible, by been loving, by being careful and by doing the things that can make sure that if we are indeed gathering together in person, we do it safely and thoughtfully. Have a blessed Advent season."



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Tiffany Vail

Tiffany Vail is the Director of Media & Communications for the Southern New England Conference.

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