Earlier this week, the board voted to approve the C19 task force recommendation that the sanctuary be opened for Sunday services effective immediately with partial capacity, masks, distancing, and vaccination required (see phase 1 requirements) children under five may sit in a distanced pod with their vaccinated parent/guardian.
Although the cumulative two-week average of cases has not quite reached the phase 1 gating criteria (less than 200 cases per 100,000), the numbers have been under 220 for at least the past two weeks and the task force has noted that vaccinations are available now for ages five and up, as well as a continuing decline in all COVID counts in Greenville County, including hospitalizations and ventilator use.
Due to the trends described above, it appears that we are at a turning point in terms of how we assess risk and determine criteria for re-opening. The task force is currently working on researching and articulating what this shift will look like practically, and will return to the board with more recommendations when we have them.
It appears to the task force that the pandemic situation has shifted from “shut down as much as possible until this passes” to “who knows what variant will come next, this clearly isn’t passing.” That means that we need to start moving toward a C19 safety model that maximizes the recommended layering of mitigation strategies (combining things like masks, vaccination, distancing, ventilation for increased protection from transmission) and begins to allow congregants to choose their own level of risk. We expect that the case counts will continue to go up and down for a while, and it becomes less feasible to open and close and open and close based on those numbers.
Therefore, we are beginning to discern a shift in policy language that will move toward using the original gating criteria as a benchmark for increased and decreased risk, but not as a trigger for opening or closing particular spaces. This potential new model will mean committing to multi-platform programming going forward, and being clear about the various levels of safety in each of the possible spaces. For example, maintaining limited capacity, masked, distanced seating in the sanctuary PLUS the livestream PLUS the watch party in the Fellowship Hall would create multiple points of access depending on a family or individual’s needs.