As COVID-19 rates begin to rise across the country, church leaders may be wondering what measures to bring back to keep your people safe.
Understanding COVID-19 Today
The COVID-19 of 2020 and the COVID-19 of 2021 are not the same. The disease continues to mutate, and now many variants are affecting different communities and parts of the world. The Delta variant is more well-known. It has caused concern among the medical community because of its infection rate and how much more quickly it spreads than earlier forms of COVID-19.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
- The Delta variant is more contagious, and it currently is the predominant strain in the U.S.
- The Delta variant may cause more severe illness than previous strains in unvaccinated people.
- Unvaccinated people becoming severely ill and hospitalized remain the biggest concern.
- Vaccines in the U.S. are highly effective at preventing severe disease and death, including against the Delta variant.
- Fully vaccinated people with Delta variant breakthroughs can spread the virus to others. However, vaccinated people appear to be infectious for a shorter time period.
- Layered prevention strategies, such as wearing masks, are needed to reduce the transmission of the Delta variant.
On July 27, 2021, the CDC released updated guidance strongly encouraging vaccinations and for communities where there is substantial or high COVID positive rates, recommending everyone wear a mask in public indoor places.
Some U.S. companies have put masking requirements back in place for all their employees and have asked visitors to also mask up, whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated. Some states and local governments also have mandated masks again, while others are allowing businesses, schools, and organizations to make the call on how they will handle this renewed guidance.
Masking Up, Again?
When mask requirements were lifted for most communities, many of us breathed a sigh of relief. For some, to go back to wearing them again may bring up feelings of anxiety and disbelief that COVID-19 is still part of daily life. You may have employees or congregants who have strong feelings about masks and mandates about wearing them.
As an insurance company, we encourage our customers, whenever possible, to follow their state and local health official’s recommendations and requirements, as well as keep up-to-date on the CDC guidance. Ultimately, you’re responsible for your church and the safety of its people when they are on your property. Let your infectious disease plan help guide you in the decision-making process.
You can use your plan and its policies to support why you are making a change – such as strongly encouraging or requiring masking for everyone entering your church. And if you don’t have an infectious disease plan or have not updated it in the past year, now is the time to do so.
Here are a few sample questions to help you debrief your efforts from this past year:
- What efforts were taken to sanitize the workplace and protect employees against illness?
- What sanitation measures were implemented in public spaces to help prevent the spread of the disease?
- Were masks or other protective gear needed for staff who cleaned or disinfected the building?
- What measures did the ministry taking to reduce the likelihood that volunteers get sick while carrying out their duties?
- Did you use layered prevention strategies such as face coverings, social distancing, hand hygiene, increased cleaning and disinfecting, contract tracing and quarantine, and ventilation and HEPA air filtering? If yes, which ones?
- Did you work with local or state health officials, local medical personnel, or share resources with other churches or organizations?
- Were certain high-touch ministries, like childcare, suspended or altered in order to safeguard volunteers?
- When did you resume childcare? What efforts did you take in preparing the childcare rooms?
- Did you hold in-person church services? Did you offer online services or alternative ways of connecting remotely? Did you do both? If so, how long did you offer off-site services?
- Were any weekend service times or locations changed? What happened to mid-week gatherings, such as Bible studies, small groups, or youth activities?
- Was communion served differently?
- How were offerings taken?
- Did you alter activities such as coffee and donuts?
Communication Remains Key
As your ministry’s leaders continue to monitor the virus in your community – as well as the health of your staff, volunteers, and congregation – ongoing communication remains an important element in keeping your people connected.
Open communication about what to expect and any changes you might implement can help alleviate fear and anxiety. Ask yourself what you’d want to know if you were a greeter, staff member, elderly church member, etc. Then, develop answers. Transparency is key. You don’t have to explain every nuance, but it’s important to provide enough details to reassure each segment of your audience.
Develop a core message. If you haven’t already, develop a core message around the changes you’ll be implementing. If your church decides it will add masking back into its layered prevention mix to help fight the spread of the disease, then create messaging that addresses concerns, helps to reassure your audience, and offers alternatives for attendees who don’t feel comfortable masking. Having a core message helps you to express empathy and support over time.
Communicate often. Communicate as often as you need to, through as many channels as possible. Even if you don’t know all the answers, it’s important to share what you do know and be honest about what you don’t. When the air is static with questions, few things fuel anxiety more than silence. It’s comforting to know that church leaders are working to address concerns, even if you don’t have solutions yet.
This information is courtesy of Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. As a leader in the industry, Brotherhood Mutual provides innovative property and casualty insurance coverage and risk management resources, specifically designed to help ministries operate safely and effectively, www.brotherhoodmutual.com.
CDC information used with permission.
The information provided in this article is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.