The Delta Variant and What It Means for Us as a Church – Amended

Last week we created the following protocols to help us navigate the Delta Variant surge. After further consultation, we are making one amendment. We will move services back into the sanctuary, and require attendees to be socially distanced and fully masked. Although our courtyard is a lovely place, we were reminded on Sunday that we are in a flight path from the airport, and the sound of the planes interrupts the service every ten minutes or so. All the other policies remain the same. We believe that these policy decisions are in accordance with our Gospel call and baptismal vow to love and care for one another and community, especially the vulnerable. You can click on each of the decisions to read about the thinking behind them, but I wanted to list them at the top of this post for clarity’s sake.

We will only be allowing vaccinated people to attend in-person worship services.

Much of the frustration that we feel in this moment is due to the fact that roughly 30% of the population is still unwilling to get vaccinated. With the Covid vaccine, there is a cloud of speculation and fear that the vaccines have not been completely proven and authorized, complicated by the unfortunate politicization of the entire issue. We support vaccination and require it for attendance because the weight of science says the protection is worth the risk. We are aware that there are some adults who can’t be vaccinated due to pre-existing health conditions, which makes it all the more important that everyone who can get vaccinated do so as quickly as possible. We’re also very aware that children can’t be vaccinated as yet. We have been hesitating to mandate vaccination until this point because we love our children and want them to be part of our parish life. And we’ve been grateful for those children who have been acolyting and participating in the life of the community throughout the past few months. But it has become clear that until the majority of adults are vaccinated, there is no real safety that we can offer to our children, either in worship or in the world as a whole. Lives are at stake. Children’s lives are at stake. So, with sadness and heaviness of heart, we ask parents to not bring their children to worship until they are vaccinated, which hopefully will happen as early as next month. As soon as the vaccine is approved for children, we will welcome vaccinated children back into worship with open arms.

When you enter in-person worship, we will ask you to sign a statement affirming your vaccination status. We will keep these statements on file, so you will only have to do this once.

We will hold services in the sanctuary, but ask attendees to be fully masked and maintain social distancing. until the CDC changes Franklin County’s status from “high” or “substantial” to “moderate.”

It is true that breakthrough infections are rare. Our reading indicates that there is a 1 in 8 chance of contracting the Delta Variant if you are vaccinated. Yet just this week one of our staff, who was fully vaccinated, did just that. It brought home to us the fact that, just because we’re vaccinated, we shouldn’t consider ourselves invincible. More than that, previous reports that vaccinated people couldn’t spread Covid have now been proven to be untrue. We neither want to get sick, nor make others sick unwittingly. That said, we now know more about Covid than we did in March, 2020. At least one epidemiologist has said, very succinctly, that Covid is an indoors, airborne virus. It is most likely to spread in poorly ventilated areas where large crowds have gathered. The CDC recommends that even the vaccinated wear masks in doors.

Our sanctuary can hold more than three hundred people, many times the number of people who have been attending services. So we’re not worried about large crowds. We will maintain social distancing and wear masks while worshipping. We will also go back to having communion in one-kind (bread only). We will be watching the CDC’s Covid Data Tracker avidly. We will reassess when Franklin County shifts from high or substantial to moderate spread. Right now, only 51.1% of all Franklin County residents are fully vaccinated. 60.9% of those 12 or older are vaccinated. Our profound hope is that, within a month or so, that number will rise to 70% or 80%. We don’t know when the Delta Variant will peak, but we do know that other countries, such as England and Israel, have seen infection rates drop off very rapidly after the peak.

We will continue to sing hymns and service music

One of our parishioners, who is a scientist and in frequent conversation with other scientists, had this to share:

Those with breakthrough infections shed virus 24-48 hours prior to and 24-48 hours following development of symptoms but after that they don’t, or not much. The deal with these breakthrough infections that isn’t getting big play is that they don’t progress to the lower resp tract in 97% of cases. In order to aerosolize, the virus has to infect the lungs, so while transmission from a vaccinated person is possible and does happen, in most cases it does not. So while it is possible to spread from the upper respiratory tract via droplet, it is the aerosols that make covid so super transmissible.

So if we are all vaccinated, we might spread the virus through coughing or sneezing (producing droplets) but the chance that we would spread the virus through singing into masks, which produces aerosols that might penetrate masks, but which will block droplets, is very, very low. So masking and distancing are key to containing the spread of the virus, whereas it seems safe to sing while masked.

That said, what we think we know about Covid, vaccination, and safety has changed many times over the past year and a half, and all of us must make choices that are based on who we work with, pre-existing conditions, and the safety of our families. If you are worried about singing in church, it is a reasonable worry, and I invite comment on this decision.

We will ask our small groups and formation classes to meet online

We have a number of small groups and formation opportunities that have, for the last year and a half, been meeting mostly online. We know how to do this, and do it well. There are certain activities, such as worship, that justify risk, since liturgy is by its nature corporate and eucharist can only happen in person. But any activities that can happen online without a tangible diminishment to their form and content should do so until the CDC lowers Franklin County’s designation from “substantial” to “moderate.” This means that Book Club, Soul Sisters, Adult Formation, and Centering Prayer are all moving online for the present.

We will ask any groups that meet in the building to wear masks while meeting, and to consider making vaccination mandatory for participants

We are well aware that several of the groups that use our building have really struggled throughout the pandemic. Recovery groups that meet at St. Stephen’s have tried to meet online, but this has meant a degree of inaccessibility to those without internet access, or those who are in immediate and urgent need. These groups serve populations that have struggled with online meetings, as feelings of isolation and abandonment are a component of their day to day realities. For these groups, the social cost of the pandemic has been very high, and we are unwilling to send them back into a state of isolation by refusing them the use of our building. Other groups, like African American Voices, can only meet in person, as singing has never worked on Zoom. So we want to extend to them the same consideration that we have extended to ourselves when allowing singing in worship. For the rest, we will make decisions on a case by case basis.

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