Dear Members and Friends of Grace Church,
The Vestry met on June 16 to discuss the report of the Bishop’s Covid-19 Advisory Committee. I attach a copy of the report and the summary of the thinking behind it.
Based on those documents and our discussion, we have decided not to set a specific date for reopening Grace. We will follow the Barron County and State of Wisconsin data on Covid cases on a weekly basis and decide whether it is advisable to open. We will make those decisions on the Friday before the Sunday that we would open. At this point the data for Barron County are fluid—the number is not high, but there has been an increasing frequency of spikes in the last two weeks. We will use a rolling seven-day average of cases to smooth out the curve to reveal the longer-term trends.
If Grace Church opens its doors to onsite services and the incidence of Covid cases rises to a point that indicates a second wave might be imminent, the Vestry will consider closing the church again.
The Vestry has set the following practices in place so that we will be prepared when we do open.
The church will be cleaned before our reopening and after each service.
We will encourage high risk parishioners not to come to church.
We ask that people arrive early so that individuals and family groups may enter while maintaining social distance.
Masks will be required
There will be no singing.
Hand sanitizer will be placed at the church entrance. Only the narthex entrance will be open.
An usher will record the names of all parishioners and other attendees (and the phone numbers of those who are not on our church roster). This is to facilitate contact tracing should any attendee test positive for or show symptoms of Covid.
We ask that you bring your own prayer book to church. If you do not have one, you may take one of the extra copies that will be available at the entrance to the nave. Take the prayer book home and bring it for subsequent services.
We will not print bulletins. The priest, deacon, or lay reader will announce the order of service
Spots for seating will be marked 6 feet apart in pews to indicate social distance. Families may sit together but groups should take care to maintain social distance from others.
Only one person will be allowed in each restroom at a time.
The nursery and the classroom will not be available.
There will be no Coffee Hour.
Finally, would you let me know whether (or not) you would attend in person should we open the Church in the near future? Obviously, this is a personal decision, but it would be helpful to the Vestry to know approximately how many people might attend. Thank you.
DIOCESE OF EAU CLAIRE Outline of Recommendations Re-opening Task Force Revised June 4, 2020
OVERVIEW AND ASSUMPTIONS
The top priorities of the Task Force are: o to keep our parishioners & their families safe while participating in church functions; o to not contribute to further community spread of COVID-19; and o to respond to changing conditions related to the COVID-19 virus in our communities. Decisions regarding in-person worship and church utilization must be driven by data on spread and severity of community viral transmission, primarily new reported cases, case rates, and deaths. “Limiting the chances for physical contact in group settings has proven to be the most effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve.” (Source: DHS Guidance for Community and Faith-Based Organizations, updated May 28, 2020) Phased response: This plan adopts the 3-phase structure of Safer At Home/Badger Bounce Back, and includes church-specific recommendations from Wisconsin Council of Churches’ Returning to Church document, published April 23, 2020. We expect timelines and our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic to be shaped by shifting conditions for at least the next 12 months. Accordingly, recommended guidelines are for moving among phases – both from more to less restrictive and from less to more restrictive – based on the changing status of COVID-19 in our communities.
CRITERIA FOR CHANGING CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE
Case counts: Lifting restrictions should only be done when there has been a prolonged period of diminishing numbers of new cases and deaths reported. New case reports and deaths by county can be confirmed by daily reports to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. 10-day period of stable or declining 7-day moving averages in new COVID-19 cases reported is the gating criterion for reopening churches for in-person worship services (Phase 0 to Phase 1), subject to worship modifications detailed below.
NOTE: As of this writing, the majority of the counties in the Diocese of Eau Claire, and the state of Wisconsin as a whole, are reporting increasing numbers of new COVID-19 cases. In fact, over the 3-week period ending May 31, 2020, the state reported week-toweek increases of 17.6% and 14.3% in new cases. The WI Supreme Court’s decision on May 13 to overturn the governor’s Safer at Home order also invalidated the Badger Bounce Back plan, which provided for loosening of restrictions on public gatherings only after the gating criterion had been met. In practical terms, we are presently in Phase One of lifting restrictions despite the fact that the new case count benchmark has not been attained. Based on their knowledge of the progress of the pandemic and in the absence of state-level rules, county health officials in our communities have agreed that organizations including churches should plan to adjust their responses to the pandemic according to the Safer at Home/Badger Bounce Back plan criteria, for the safety of the public and for optimal containment of community spread of the virus.
The determination that re-opening should be continued, and other decisions regarding inperson gatherings in the church building, should be made by the local clergy in charge, with the consultation of the Vestry, the local Public Health Authority, and considering input from clergy of other local churches on the status of their plans. Members of the congregations in the Diocese of Eau Claire are comprised of a high percentage of individuals at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Those at higher risk and other members of their households can be expected to be more cautious about re-entering community life, especially as long as new cases continue to be reported. Therefore congregations should continue to offer regular on-line worship opportunities as restrictions on gatherings are lifted. At a minimum, a weekly service should be live-streamed, conducted via Zoom, or recorded for viewing on YouTube or equivalent access. Whether online services are on weekends or weekdays, and if they are Holy Eucharist or Daily Office, is determined at the discretion of the priest-in-charge in each congregation.
High-risk individuals* should be encouraged to avoid gatherings of groups of people not in their households, and to limit community exposure to essential trips, ideally at a maximum of one trip per week (CDC). *High-risk individuals are defined in a CDC handout (text below).
*Individuals at Higher Risk for Severe Illness from COVID-19
Based on currently available information and clinical expertise, older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Based on what we know now, those at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are: People 65 years and older People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility People of all ages with underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, including: People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma People who have serious heart conditions People who are immunocompromised o Many conditions can cause a person to be immunocompromised, including cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications People with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher) People with diabetes People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis People with liver disease
Source: CDC https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-at-higherrisk.html; downloaded June 1, 2020
DIOCESE OF EAU CLAIRE BISHOP’S RE-OPENING TASK FORCE
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS Revised June 4, 2020
Phase Conditions Actions Preparation for Next Phases 0 (Current Status) Increasing numbers of new cases being reported across the state and in counties within the Diocese of Eau Claire. County Health Authorities and WI DHS advise staying at home; strongly encourage high-risk individuals to limit community exposure to 1 essential trip per week; encourage use of masks for all in situations where social distancing cannot be practiced Strongly encourage high-risk individuals to stay at home, avoid gatherings and limit community exposure per DHS advice No in-person public services No group activities in church buildings; minimal level of staffing for office and maintenance functions
Monitor reports on new cases and deaths by county Obtain cleaning and disinfecting agents for when in-person activities resume Remove Bibles, prayer books, hymnals & other print materials from worship space Stock hand sanitizer at all entrances Close off areas not to be used when in-person activities resume: fellowship hall; kitchen; nursery; classrooms; meeting rooms Develop worship space seating plan for 10 or fewer attendees or household units, maintaining 6 ft distances Develop plan for cleaning and re-sanitizing spaces utilized before and between services Develop communications plan for congregation & community
1 Stable or declining new cases reported based on 7-day moving averages over a minimum 10 days Local Health Authorities confirm adequacy of testing, tracing, isolation capacity with supplies of PPE Consensus among local Vestry that re-opening can be done safely Consensus among local churches that re-opening can be done safely
Continue to encourage highrisk individuals to limit community exposure; provide at least 1 weekly online worship opportunity In-person services with max. attendance of 10 individuals or household units Attendees strongly encouraged to bring their own prayer books. Attendees requested to use hand sanitizer upon entering Wearing of cloth masks required No person-to-person contact (shaking hands, touching, e.g., at Peace or Communion) If communion, bread only is served (consider Morning Prayer) No congregational or choral singing Wipe down & disinfect pews, door handles, bathroom fixtures, other surfaces before and between services No coffee hour or gatherings before or after service No shared food of any kind
Evaluate seating plan for max. 50 attendees/units maintaining 6 ft. min. spacing Develop plan for limiting attendance at each service to 50 or fewer Monitor new cases and deaths by county. Maintain contact with local Health Authority in event that cases begin to increase Maintain contact with Bishop and Leadership Council to report on case activity in county and services offered at church Communicate changing conditions as appropriate
2 Additional 10-day periods with stable or declining trend in 7-day average number of new cases reported Local Health Authority and local Vestry consensus that raising max. attendance to 50 can be done safely Consensus among local churches that increasing max. attendance can be done safely
Continue to encourage highrisk individuals to limit community exposure; provide at least 1 weekly online worship opportunity In-person services with max. attendance of 50 individuals or household units Request use of hand sanitizer Wearing of cloth masks required No person-to-person contact If communion, serve bread only No congregational or choral singing Wipe down and disinfect surfaces before and between services No coffee hour or gatherings before or after service No shared food of any kind
Determine max. number of worshippers/household units that worship space can accommodate while maintaining min. 6 ft. distances Develop plan for maintaining max. number of attendees at worship space capacity or fewer (e.g., multiple services, multiple days/times) Evaluate ability of other groups using church space to maintain social distancing requirements and restrictions on access to spaces & determine plan for resuming each activity Monitor new cases and deaths by county. Maintain contact with local Health Authority in event that cases begin to increase Maintain contact with Bishop and Leadership Council to report on case activity in county and services offered at church Communicate changing conditions as appropriate
3 Additional 10-day periods with stable or declining trend in 7-day average number of new cases reported Local Health Authority and local Vestry consensus that raising attendance to worship space max. capacity can be done safely Consensus among local churches that increasing max. attendance can be done safely
Continue to encourage highrisk individuals to limit community exposure; provide at least 1 weekly online worship opportunity In-person services with max. attendance of 50 individuals or household units Request use of hand sanitizer Wearing of cloth masks required No person-to-person contact If communion, serve bread only No congregational or choral singing Wipe down and disinfect surfaces before and between services No coffee hour or gatherings before or after service No shared food of any kind Offer opportunity to resume activities to other groups using church space, subject to social distancing requirements and space access restrictions
Monitor new cases and deaths by county. Maintain contact with local Health Authority in event that cases begin to increase Maintain contact with Bishop and Leadership Council to report on case activity in county and services offered at church Communicate changing conditions as appropriate Develop plan for Maintenance phase to support high-risk and other individuals in reentering church group gatherings safely, if that is their choice. Determine plan for ongoing offerings of online worship opportunities.
Maintenance: On-Going Surveillance
Local Health Authority and local Vestry consensus that reducing restrictions for highrisk individuals can be done safely
Gradual reduction of limitations and restrictions as deemed reasonable and safe
Implement plan for on-going support for high-risk and isolated individuals Communicate availability of online worship opportunities Develop communications plan in the event that re-closing is necessitated by increasing new case reports.
Procedures for Re-Closing In the event new cases reported show upward trend in 7-day moving averages over any 10-day period, initiate contact with Local Health Authority to evaluate need for re-closing to inperson services
Strongly encourage high-risk individuals to stay at home, avoid gatherings and limit community exposure per DHS advice Use congregation’s available communications channels (email, social media, telephone tree, others) to announce no in-person public services effective following Sunday Announce no group activities in church buildings effective immediately; minimal level of staffing for office and maintenance functions
Continue surveillance of 7day moving average numbers of new cases reported, ongoing contact with local Health Authority and updates to local Vestry and Diocesan Office Maintain readiness for reopening (see Phase 0