Responding to COVID-19
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Executive Presbyter’s Report - June 19th
We’re now four days into the brave new world of post-COVID restrictions. Because most blanket guidelines have been “retired,” there is a broad range of responses to how to live now, as our COVID infection rate is very low but over 40% are not even partially vaccinated in LA County, and the new virus that so hurt India is spreading in the US.
Now more than ever, it will be up to each church session to consider protocols that are safe, welcoming, and supportive of the needs of your particular church and your surrounding community. First and foremost, this depends on phasing in indoor worship only when you feel ready, and when you know how you want to ensure as much participation as possible for your church members.
This will mean asking non-vaccinated people to continue to wear masks and maintain social distancing when indoors. And this may mean everyone stays masked, to avoid dividing the congregation into two camps. Since young children cannot be vaccinated, many parents are continuing to stay masked to model the behavior for their kids.
This may mean congregational singing is back, but perhaps everyone sings with masks on, just to be safe. This may mean fellowship hour has food and drink, whether they are factory-sealed or not. And this I hope will mean keeping track of who is attending worship, just in case there’s an outbreak.
And just like at the beginning of the pandemic, we need to have patience, grace, and flexibility, as many people are adjusting to “Normal 2.0” in varying speeds, and varying levels of re-entry anxiety.
The current LA County Health Order, effective June 15, 2021, is at:
I have tried to summarize the County’s most relevant items in the following 10 points:
- Except for youth, healthcare, and other high-risk congregate settings (like shelters and detention centers), prior sector-specific guidance under local health protocols are no longer required. For the named settings (and all public transportation), masks are required.
- The general requirement to report positive cases in the workplace and in schools continues.
- For Sunday School and events with children, consult the LA County guidelines for K-12 schools, aka Appendix T1, at http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/docs/protocols/Reopening_K12Schools.pdf). K-12 guidelines include masking when indoors, 6-foot distancing when not masked, 8-foot distancing when singing, keeping students in cohorts, and extra care for distancing between adults and children.
- Masks are REQUIRED indoors for anyone not fully vaccinated, and they should consider wearing two masks or the N95 (or KN95) respirator if indoors. Whereas the common single masking helps to keep the virus from being spread by the wearer, now the focus is on protecting the unvaccinated wearer from breathing in the virus, and that requires more effective masking.
- If your church has people who are not fully vaccinated, it is suggested that ALL people stay masked, or there is signage stating that those who are not fully vaccinated must wear masks.
- Whatever you decide, you should clearly communicate your masking and other requirements on the premises, and in regular communications so people are prepared ahead of coming to the church.
- People at risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19—such as unvaccinated older adults and unvaccinated individuals with health risks—and members of their household should take protective measures (face masks, physical distancing, stay outdoors) or stay at home.
- Keep windows and other sources of natural ventilation open to the greatest extent possible.
- Use fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows. Position fans securely and carefully in or near windows. Take care with electrical cords; look out for tripping or wet conditions. Position fans so that air does not blow from one person to another. Window fans placed in exhaust mode can help draw fresh air into a room via other open windows and doors without generating strong room air currents.
- Consider adding portable air cleaners in areas where fresh air ventilation cannot be increased.
In addition to the County and State guidelines, here are a few additional items to consider:
- Continue to offer online options for worship.
- Try more outdoor activities, as outdoors is always safer, COVID-wise, than indoors.
- Ask attendees (by signage at least) to refrain from entering if they have symptoms, recent exposure to COVID, or have traveled recently.
- Ask attendees to sign in so you know who was in worship (or on the church campus) on any particular day.
- Singing guidelines continue to vary. Use caution regarding singing, and consider staying masked during congregational singing, requiring vaccination for choir members, limiting the number of music leaders singing live in the sanctuary, or continue physical distancing if unmasked.
- Continue to safeguard children, especially until they can be vaccinated. Remember that unvaccinated people still face the same risks if exposed—and 43% of all County residents have received not even one vaccination shot.
- Consider “no-touch” greetings, offering, and communion.
- Continue to have masks and hand sanitizer easily available (even if not for COVID, for flu and colds).
- Consider what we have learned and want to retain from this pandemic experience, such as prudent use of virtual meetings and infection control.
- Continue to encourage vaccination, allow people to make their own decisions if they want to continue to wear masks, and continue to fight for better healthcare and reduce disparities of income and quality of life.
- Keep alert to the many different and changing emotional needs of the congregation members—and yourselves—and make extra space in your church life for reflection, grief, joy, confusion, weariness, even irritability. Be gentle with yourselves, and each other!
Links to California State, Los Angeles County, and City of Pasadena Departments of Public Health Guidelines for Places of Worship
- State of California (4/23/21 for Places of Worship): https://covid19.ca.gov/industry-guidance/
- Los Angeles County (4/14/21) See specifically item “h” on page 15: http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/docs/HOO/HOO_SaferatHomeCommunity.pdf
- City of Pasadena (4/14/21): https://www.cityofpasadena.net/public-health/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/Places-of-Worship-Public-Health-Reopening-Protocol.pdf?v=1618211045955
- Los Angeles County (4-16-21) http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/docs/protocols/Reopening_LiveIndoorEvents.pdf (Faith Communities were referred to Indoor Performance protocols for guidance on singers and instrumentalists)
- Los Angeles County (Appendix A 3-5-21): http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/docs/protocols/Reopening_SocialDistancing.pdf
- Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Cleaning and Disinfection Matrix (4/21/21): http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/coronavirus/docs/protection/CleaningMatrix.pdf
Articles for Re-Opening
- Church Mutual Insurance: Church Mutual’s coronavirus resources page has articles on re-opening checklists, a COVID-19 sample waiver, suggestions on youth programs and camps, OSHA guidance on ventilation, and more. Church Mutual is a national insurance provider for churches and non-profits, so please take their guidance in context of local guidelines.
- Wisconsin Council of Churches: WCC has put together several resources over the last year for congregations to use as they make decisions about re-opening. The latest resource Bearing with One Another in Love is a supplement to Returning to Church 2.0: Holding Our Plans Loosely.
- Princeton Seminary’s Institute for Youth Ministry has a variety of articles, podcasts and videos on youth ministry in general and youth ministry in a pandemic specifically.
- Illustrated Ministry has virtual and in-person resources for intergenerational and children’s education programs. They are coming out with their second VBS curriculum that can be adapted for virtual or in-person use. Their worship resources might be a great fit for busy bag activities for kids who are remaining in worship with their family.