For a number of weeks, cases of Covid-19 have remained low in our local towns, county, and state. Earlier this week, April 4, the Boston Globe even reported zero deaths. While Covid-19 remains a serious, sometimes deadly, disease for too many, we are grateful for vaccinations and therapies that have lowered the risk for many. Even so, risks remain, especially for those who are unvaccinated, over 65, and immunocompromised, and there are concerns around long Covid. Accordingly, the need to maintain guidelines for gathering safely in-person and/or for online access to Services and programming continues.
As a community, we are both public and intimate. We openly welcome the public into Sunday Services and into our community. In our covenant, we also commit to caring for one another and to make the welfare of others central to who we are as a community. This means we must both consider how to remain accessible as well as seek to keep those who gather as safe as possible. Balancing this tension impacts Covid protocols as well as worship and program designs.
At this time, we recommend the following guidelines:
- Up-to-date Vaccinations expected of all eligible persons. Being up-to-date with vaccinations, including boosters, not only lowers the risk of hospitalization and death to oneself, but if infected also reduces the transmission of the virus to others. Vaccinations are required of all staff.
- Please stay home if sick. If you are experiencing any symptoms of illness, please stay home and consider being tested for Covid-19. If you test positive and have recently been in-person at a First Parish event, please contact Rev. Stephanie or the Lay Minister of the month.
- Social-distancing will be made available in the Sanctuary, but is not required. Social distancing is a proven element in preventing transmission of Covid-19 and we urge everyone to respect the preferences of others for distancing, including seating, standing, and physical touch (handshakes, hugs). Please ask and do not assume another’s preference.
- Masking will remain required for all indoor, large group events (greater than 20), including Sunday Services. Please wear a well-fitted mask that covers your mouth and nose. Masking will become optional for vaccinated individuals alone in the building and for small groups (20 and fewer). Some small groups may elect to remain masked per their preference. Please be mindful of your own risk as well as the impact on others, especially for those in high-risk groups (unvaccinated young children, adults over 65, and immunocompromised persons). When in a group, we encourage masking practices that feel safe to all who wish to participate. We also have options for multiplatform meetings if a group wishes to provide access to people both in-person and online. Please ask Kate Holland or Rev. Stephanie for more information.
- Improved ventilation is a recognized part of a multi-prong, or layered, approach to reducing risk. We will continue to open windows in the Sanctuary for Services and recommend small groups also improve ventilation through open windows, doors, and/or available air purifiers. Fans have been added to both bathrooms off the Vestry and the Building Committee is in the process of working with contractors to improve ventilation in the Sanctuary. Additional ventilation improvements to our campus remain under discussion with the Parish Committee.
- Singing remains a part of Sunday Services (during which people will be masked). Any unmasked vocalists have tested negative for Covid-19 that morning. We are in active discussion about the choir singing in the service (masked and vaccinated).
- The Spiritual and Ethical Exploration for Kids (SEEK) program will follow the above guidelines for distancing and masking. Kate Holland will remain in active conversation with parents about their preferences regarding masking for the children as a small group. All staff and volunteers who work with SEEK have up-to-date vaccinations.
- Community Time (aka Coffee Hour) will remain primarily outside; however, if weather is poor, we recommend gathering in the Commons or Vestry in groups of 20 or fewer following the above guidelines for distancing and masking.
These guidelines represent our thinking at this moment and are subject to change. We acknowledge that for some these guidelines fall short and for others they stretch too far. As we continue to be together as a community of differing risks and opinions, we encourage people to respect one another’s perspectives on these complex issues as we all try to care for ourselves and one another.
Stephanie May, Minister
Annie Stubbs, Parish Committee, co-chair
Deb Stubeda, Parish Committee, co-chair