Updated Guidance for Use of the Church Spaces
· Current CDC and Massachusetts guidelines now permit thoughtful use of indoor spaces by groups of both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
· For small groups (10-15) of [DR1] fully vaccinated people (who are not immunocompromised due to chronic medical conditions, such as immune deficiency, cancer, and other conditions) indoor meetings, including those in the church spaces, are now considered low risk and don’t require masks. Distancing should be for comfort.
· For small indoor gatherings of both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, the risk is primarily to the unvaccinated people. If groups that include unvaccinated people wish to meet indoors, masks for unvaccinated (and insufficiently protected individuals) and social distancing are advised. In these mixed small group settings amongst ourselves, we encourage open conversations about mask-wearing for vaccinated members given specific circumstances of the individuals in the group, and we encourage vaccinated members to wear masks when asked.
· For unvaccinated people, meetings in the Parish Hall are lower risk than in other less well-ventilated rooms in the church, and we encourage usage of that space in particular for unvaccinated individuals and mixed gatherings.
· If you intend to have a gathering in the church building, remember you still must book rooms with Susanna Whitman at email@example.com (as we did pre-COVID) and use the sign-in sheet at the Lincoln St entrance in case there is a need for contact tracing
· Outdoor gatherings among fully vaccinated people are very low risk and do not require any precautions.
· Unvaccinated people participating in outdoor meetings are at lower risk than those participating in indoor meetings, but they should continue to wear masks. As with mixed indoor gatherings, we encourage open conversation about mask-wearing and ask vaccinated members to wear masks when asked.
· Remember our UU First Principle that reminds us of the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and thus challenges us to be as accessible and inclusive as possible. We encourage groups to offer hybrid gathering options (mixed in-person and Zoomed-in participants) for the foreseeable future
· Although the daily number of new cases in Massachusetts and in our community is low, the situation is fluid and risk may change based on new variants and the number of individuals traveling to and from higher risk areas. We will have a better sense of how to begin regular activities in August. If updated guidance is indicated before then, we will post it to the blog.
The past 14 months of the Covid 19 pandemic and the closing of the building for in-person activities has been a struggle for all of us. The social isolation necessary to minimize the risk of getting sick and infecting others with the virus has been particularly difficult. We are eager to experience in person the warmth of community. Nonetheless, the pandemic is still with us and continues to be a threat to our physical and emotional health.
First Parish has formed a task force to create guidance on how we can begin to resume activities in the building. The members of the task force are Eliot Jekowsky, chair, Dennis Ross-Degnan, Joan Mecsas, Anna Berkenblit, Dave Blom, and Jan Galkowski.
There are several sources of guidance that the Task Force will reference: the peer-reviewed scientific literature, CDC guidelines, UUA guidelines, Massachusetts Department of Health guidelines, and others.
There are multiple factors that determine the risk of acquiring the coronavirus infection: degree of ventilation (both outdoors and indoors), vaccination status, chronic medical conditions, incidence of virus in the community, presence of variants of concern, and the context of the encounter. It is unrealistic to create a formula that assesses risk for every combination of these risk factors, so the Task Force is creating some general guidelines.
As vaccination rates rise and the incidence of infections in the local community decreases, we all long to expand human contact after a year of social isolation. We recommend that small groups of people who agree to meet for activities create a covenant amongst themselves regarding the risk level of the meeting and whether it should be held in person or remotely. We encourage groups to accommodate people who are more anxious about in-person meetings and respect their concerns. We suggest that part of the covenant is that if anyone is uncomfortable with the setting of the meeting, it should be okay for them to skip the meeting or leave with no stigma.
A recent article in the NY Times suggested guidance about risk from highly respected scientists. The link to the article is: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/22/well/live/covid-masks-outdoors.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
The task force supports this guidance. The scientists cited in the article follow the rule of “two out of three”, the three conditions being meeting outdoors, 6 feet apart, and masking. Meeting two of these three conditions would be considered low risk. However, it is noted that as meetings get longer or larger, even outdoors, the risk goes up. There are no specific rules about when and how much risk rises.
Regarding indoor meetings, ventilation is a key challenge. In an article published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association on April 16, 2021 written by Joseph G. Allen, Dsc., MPH and Andrew M. Ibrahim, MD, MSc entitled “Indoor Air Changes and Potential Implications for SARS-COV-2 Transmission”, evidence-based standards for ventilation of indoor spaces were presented. Parish Hall is the only room in the church that meets these standards. No other rooms in the building have active ventilation. Therefore, at the present time, the Task Force does not recommend meetings in the sanctuary, conference room, youth room, parlor, and music room. However, small scheduled meetings in the Parish Hall may meet this standard.
The visions of the CDC and other epidemiologists are that vaccinations with effective vaccines lead to “herd immunity”. This means that enough of the population is vaccinated that infection rates becomes quite low. Accordingly, the risk of resuming normal social activities is low, even if it remains present. The pace of arriving at this place and the achievement of this goal are affected by hesitancy and refusal to receive the vaccine, and by the emergence of variants of the virus that can outwit the antibodies created by the vaccine and continue to cause infection. This is a dynamic situation. The Task Force is committed to keeping up to date with progress toward reducing infection risk. The Task Force will share the updated guidance with the community.
April 26, 2021
The First Parish Re-Opening Task Force