We at MLUC, as well as our families, friends, and neighbors across the country and around the world, have gone through a year of isolation and suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus remains a significant threat and we continue to face considerable infection, hospitalization, and death rates. Based on the CDC’s risk assessment categories, our region is still in the RED/HIGH TRANSMISSION phase. However, we are now moving into a different stage of the pandemic. Three safe and effective vaccines are now being rapidly deployed across the U.S. and while still high, new cases, and more importantly, hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 have fallen considerably from their winter peaks. As vaccinations increase, the overall rate of infection, hospitalization and death should continue to fall over time.
We are not there yet, but there is a realistic sense that we are “turning the corner” and that over the next several months, it will be possible for more of society – including places of worship – to reopen for at least some in-person activities.
The principal driver of these changes is vaccination. Pennsylvanians are getting vaccinated at a rapid rate. At current rates, by the end of April, 80% of 65+ people in Pennsylvania will be fully vaccinated, and by the end of May, all adults (18+) who wish to be vaccinated should have received a shot. In addition, some youth (12+) may have access to the vaccine by early Fall 2021 (although younger children will probably have to wait until 2022).
MLUC actively encourages members and their families to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. We recognize, however, that some people will not be able or will choose not to get the vaccine. For privacy, inclusivity and other reasons, we will not ask or condition participation in future church events or activities on whether a person has been vaccinated. Also, while we anticipate that the vaccination rates for the MLUC community may be higher than the wider community vaccination rates, that cannot be guaranteed.
The pandemic situation is fluid and circumstances may change rapidly (for example, the potential impact of new variants of the virus and the efficacy of the vaccines against them). As such, our decisions about safety will continue to be guided by the best science and the relevant data available at the time. We are projecting, however, that conditions will get better, and we need to plan for the future.
We hope and expect that based on projected trends and continued vigilance with safety precautions, it should be possible to reintroduce outdoor events and Sunday services when our area is in the ORANGE/SUBSTANTIAL phase, perhaps as soon as May 2021, and indoor events when our area is in the YELLOW/MODERATE phase, hopefully in the summer.
Unfortunately, we do not anticipate that it will be possible to go back to “normal” activities — i.e. unrestricted, indoor Sunday services and other large-scale activities without masks or other precautions until at least 2022. That said, we do aspire to have some form of indoor Sunday services and other events with appropriate limitations and restrictions by Fall 2021.
We believe it is essential that MLUC learns and grows from our experiences during the pandemic, and that we strive to become a more inclusive community both during this transition period and into the future. We will endeavor to make all services and other events/meetings as open and accessible as feasible, using technology to enable a hybrid mix of in-person and remote participants. In addition, we are actively considering how best to include children in services and other activities, including faith development programs.
We welcome your comments or questions about and/or your involvement in this planning process. Please contact the Coping with Covid Committee at email@example.com. Also, please participate in the survey on your willingness to participate in such proposed events.