COVID Regathering Guidance
Beloved in Christ,
For the past two years, we have shown our care for our neighbors by taking drastic measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. While our efforts surely saved lives, the cost to our communities, our families, our mental health, and our souls has been huge. Slowly but surely, we are arriving at a new reality in which this disease is becoming endemic, joining other viruses to which we are vulnerable and from which we take care to protect ourselves and others. Effective vaccines are now widely available in this country, and we know how to effectively mitigate risk when cases surge. Beloved, it is time for us to take the next step together into a new normal.
What follows is guidance on how we step into this new normal, as well as how to manage any future surges in COVID cases. None of this information will be new to you. I have seen you all care for one another in extraordinary ways these last two years, and I am confident that every faith community in this diocese has the knowledge, resources, and wisdom necessary to continue to do so, given your own contexts and needs. You do not need to create or submit regathering plans. Where you encounter particularly tricky questions, I encourage you to reach out to me, and especially to one another, for advice and conversation.
COVID-19 COMMUNITY LEVELS
It will be important to continue to monitor case rates in your area for the time being so that you and your community can make informed decisions regarding what mitigation tactics might be necessary. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has released a tool to help you find current data and up-to-date prevention guidance by county: Community Levels. Each county’s spread is labeled as low, medium, or high, and recommended prevention tactics are provided based on that data. The tool is also predictive, and so offers guidance on which areas may need to step up mitigation tactics to prevent strain on hospitals and other infrastructure.
Regardless of level of spread in your community, the CDC continues to recommend staying current with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, isolating and testing when experiencing symptoms, improving ventilation in indoor spaces, and taking particular care with those who are immunocompromised.
As you and the leaders of your community make decisions based on this data, informing those entering your building of current expectations for mitigation (masking vs. not, etc.) is crucial.
TURNING THE DIAL
As we live into this new normal, case rates will continue to rise and fall, and it will be necessary to adapt accordingly by turning the dial up or down on our mitigation tactics. The most important thing is to be clear with anyone in your building or attending your events about expectations. You all know the strategies available to you to limit risk of spread:
● Limiting capacity
● Hosting separate gatherings for high-risk individuals & families
● Adding an online option (livestreaming, hybrid gatherings, etc.)
● Moving outdoors
● Moving online: Even when case levels are high, safely gathering in person is still possible. Moving to entirely online gatherings should be viewed as a mitigation measure of last resort.
Congregations are strongly encouraged to return to the fullness of our church's sacramental life and practice without restrictions. This includes reintroducing the common cup at Eucharist, which is an important part of our theology and practice.
Congregations are encouraged to return to communal singing at any time. If your community is at elevated risk of spread, consider requiring masks while singing.
Large scale services (weddings, funerals, etc.)
Gatherings of such kinds are possible to do safely. If case rates are high, faith communities may institute mitigation strategies to reduce the risk of spread.
If you haven’t already, now is the time to discern whether and how to return to feeding ministries or other ministries offered by your community. When deciding on appropriate mitigation strategies, consider not just level of community spread but how closely in contact participants will be.
● Hybrid Gathering Guide for ECMN Faith Communities
● Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) – Stay Safe MN site
● MDH – COVID Safe Business Rules for places of worship
● Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Vaccine Guidance
Grace and Peace,
The Right Reverend Craig Loya
Episcopal Church in Minnesota