September 20, 2020
Coping with Covid Committee (“CoCoCo”)
Proposed Guidelines for “Reopening” MLUC for In-Person Events
- All discussions of any proposals, plans, criteria, and guidelines for a possible “reopening” of the church for in-person gatherings should consider the extent to which these actions align with and advance MLUC’s Mission: “Together, We Transform Lives through Love, Service, and Our Welcoming Faith”.
- We recognize that how we handle this healthcare crisis, consider the competing needs and desires of our community of faith, and seek to engage people in that process involves not just practical and logistical but also spiritual considerations.
- It is critical that we ground any plans and decisions in our UU values, including our collective role as part of a loving community, care and concern for our most vulnerable, accessibility and inclusivity for as many people as reasonably possible, and the ethical treatment of congregants, staff, and any third parties.
- The primary consideration in any discussions and decisions must be the safety of congregants, staff, family members, and others who may be impacted.
- Any plans, criteria, and guidelines for in-person gatherings should be driven by the best science, medical advice, and Pennsylvania-reported data available at the time; and must be consistent with all state and local government directives and recommendations. The two key criteria that MLUC would adopt if and when these guidelines are implemented are (a) the polymerise chain reaction (PCR) test positivity rate, and (b) the number of new cases per 100,000 people in each of Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties (as reported by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health).
- It is important that the recommendations of the UUA and other relevant organizations be carefully considered, while also recognizing and respecting local conditions and the congregational independence of MLUC.
- We acknowledge that the circumstances, risk profiles and relative risk tolerance/aversion in our community will vary. In particular, we must recognize that many members and their family members are older, have pre-existing conditions, are immune compromised, or are otherwise at higher risk. We must also recognize, however, the personal and spiritual importance of in-person gatherings for many members as it is safe and feasible to do so. As such, any plans, criteria, and guidelines should consider the differing circumstances and needs of members of our beloved community, and attempt to accommodate those respective circumstances and needs with nuance, flexibility, transparency, and above all, compassion.
These guidelines envision a Phase 1 opening for limited outdoor events/meetings and other activities based on the criteria/guidelines detailed below in September 2020. Subsequent phases for limited indoor events/meetings (Phase 2) and possibly somewhat larger indoor events/meetings and/or other activities (Phase 3) might follow. CoCoCo and church staff are evaluating and developing possible criteria/guidelines for Phase 2. These guidelines do not envision any re-opening for unrestricted, in-person Sunday services or other large, in-person public meetings in the church building until at least May 2021 (in accordance with the UUA’s current guidelines). At some point in the future, CoCoCo will propose criteria/guidelines for possible future indoor church services based on the best science, medical advice, and state-reported data available at that time, as well as the availability and effectiveness of vaccines and/or treatments, and all state and local government directives and guidance.
We fully recognize current conditions may postpone or prohibit the transition from Phase 1 to Phases 2 and 3. Depending on weather conditions, it may well be necessary to suspend Phase 1 outdoor events/meetings and revert exclusively to online meetings/events during the winter.
We also acknowledge that the pandemic situation is fluid and public health and other circumstances may change rapidly. As such, the criteria/guidelines should be implemented after careful consideration of then current conditions, recognizing that the church staff shall have the right to modify, suspend, or replace the criteria/guidelines as required.
All participants in any organized Phase 1 outdoor event/meeting must physically sign a covenant as set forth below. No exceptions shall be permitted. Each participant must sign the covenant before attending their first Phase 1 event/meeting. If and when Phase 2 indoor events/meetings are permitted, each participant must sign a revised version of the covenant applicable to the guidelines for such indoor events/meetings before attending their first Phase 2 event/meeting. The relevant covenant need not be re-signed before every meeting/event if the participant has a copy of their signed covenant with them at subsequent meetings.
These criteria/guidelines, including the requirements that participants sign the covenant and abide by the relevant safety requirements, should apply to all organized event/meetings of any church committee, group, or organization during Phase 1 regardless of whether they are held on church grounds or elsewhere (including any locations on public or private property).
The organizers of the event/meeting shall be responsible for advising participants of the requirements of the relevant covenant both before (by email, etc.) and at the start of each event/meeting, for ensuring that all participants have signed the relevant covenant and comply fully with those requirements at all times, including the proper use of face coverings and maintaining social distance.
The organizers should also encourage participants to print out and sign a copy of the relevant covenant before coming to the event/meeting. The organizers should also make sure to bring additional printed copies of the relevant covenant and pens to the event/meeting.
Anyparticipant who has already signed the relevant covenant before a previous event/meeting, shall be responsible for bringing a copy of that signed covenant to any subsequent event/meeting. If a participant does not have a copy with them, the organizers shall require them to re-sign the covenant.
Any participant who refuses or repeatedly fails to comply with the requirements in the relevant covenant or other reasonable requests of the event/meeting organizers or the church staff, should be asked to leave the event/meeting.
Unrestricted In-Person Sunday Services or Other Indoor Public Meetings
MLUC will not open for unrestricted, in-person Sunday services or other large, in-person public meetings in the MMR or elsewhere in the church building until at least May 2021 (in accordance with the UUA’s current guidelines) and not until appropriate criteria/guidelines for such events have been developed by CoCoCo, and approved by the Board of Trustees and Executive Team. Additionally, the following criteria are part of this decision-making process:
- Governor Wolf’s current mandate does not allow groups of more than 25 people to meet indoors for social events.
- As of the week of September 4-10, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties have PCR test positivity rates of 6.5%, 4.4%, 3.3% and 3.2% respectively, and new cases per 100,000 people of 71.3, 48.9, 37.2, and 32.8 respectively. We believe those rates are sufficiently low to permit Phase 1 outdoor events/meetings. Based on guidance from the World Health Organization and other scientific organizations, however, they are too high for large-scale indoor activities.
Phase 1 Opening – Outdoor Events/Meetings and Other Outdoor Activities Only
Limited outdoor events/meetings pursuant to the guidelines may start in September 2020. The plan is that various church committees, groups, or organizations will be invited to be part of a pilot project to evaluate the feasibility and any potential issues associated with Phase 1 events/meetings under these guidelines.
However, if the PCR test positivity rates in any one of Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties exceeds 5.5%, or the new cases per 100,000 people in any one of those counties exceeds 100, Phase 1 will have to be promptly reassessed by CoCoCo and the church staff to determine if outdoor events/meetings may continue and/or if and how these guidelines should be revised.
- The size of an outdoor gathering shall be limited to 20 individuals (from a maximum of 10 households).
- Outdoor events/meetings may only be scheduled when St. David’s School or camp is not in session.
- Only one outdoor event/meeting may be held at the same time on a given day. Provided that the rest of the guidelines are followed, however, the organizers may split the meeting/event into two sections in different outdoor locations.
- The organizers must schedule their outdoor event/meeting with forms or procedures specified by the church staff. They should also check the church calendar to ensure no other outdoor event/meeting has been scheduled for the same date/time.
- The church staff shall have the right to refuse to permit a given event/meeting, to regulate the day and time of a given event/meeting, to limit the number of permitted attendees, and to impose other reasonable restrictions.
- Organizers of an outdoor event/meeting should make the event/meeting as accessible and inclusive as possible for all participants based on the needs of the potential participants. For example, accessible spaces (e.g. the parking lot) may be used so wheelchair or walker users may attend, or appropriate accommodations made for hard-of-hearing participants.
- Organizers should consider having conversations with their group before planning an outdoor event so they can assess the comfort level and ability of the entire group to meet in-person and follow the guidelines and the covenant.
- The organizers of the event/meeting should provide hand sanitizers and encourage their use by the participants. Participants at outdoor events/meetings may use the outdoor porta potties provided by the church. The indoor bathrooms may not be used.
- The organizers of the event/meeting must not exceed the maximum attendance numbers. They may specify that the event/meeting is for a closed group of participants only (e.g. an SGM group). If the group is not self-limited to a number less than the attendance maximum, the organizers shall establish a suitable registration or RSVP system in advance. If unexpected people arrive whose attendance would exceed the maximum attendance number for the particular event/meeting, the organizers must politely ask those people to leave or split the meeting/event into two separate sections.
- The organizers of the event/meeting shall provide feedback to CoCoCo or its designee promptly after the event/meeting regarding compliance with the guidelines, any issues/concerns that may have arisen, and any suggestions for revisions to the guidelines. In addition, they should encourage participants to provide similar feedback (including any concerns they may have) directly to CoCoCo or its designee. CoCoCo will assign someone to monitor meetings and follow up with the organizers to ensure feedback is provided and considered and when appropriate, passed on to the church staff.
Use of the Playground, Memorial Garden, and Labyrinth
Subject to the following guidelines, people may use the church’s playground, the Memorial Garden, or the Labyrinth on an ad hoc basis rather than as part of any organized event/meeting and without signing the covenant:
- Use of the playground or the Labyrinth shall only be permitted when St. David’s School or camp is not in session.
- Only those portions of the playground that are unlocked and open (typically the middle section) may be utilized.
- All children over the age of 2 and all adults shall wear masks, face shields or other appropriate face coverings at all times while at the playground, the Memorial Garden, or Labyrinth regardless of whether or not they are socially distanced.
- As reasonable, everyone should maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet whenever possible in the playground, the Memorial Garden, or the Labyrinth. (However, we recognize that that may be hard for children on the playground.)
- No more than two households may visit or walk the Labyrinth at any one time, and each person/household group should stagger their entry into the Labyrinth to minimize interaction. People from different households should take care when passing a person from another household on adjoining paths in the Labyrinth (such as stepping aside and/or turning one’s face away).
- People using the playground, the Memorial Garden, or Labyrinth shall use the outdoor porta potties provided by the church. (The indoor bathrooms may not be used).
Phase 2 Opening – Limited Indoor Events/Meetings
Any possible Phase 2 opening for limited indoor events/meetings will depend on conditions regarding the pandemic in this region at that time. Criteria will include a sustained and substantial decrease in both the PCR test positivity rate and the new cases per capita rate over at least three weeks in each of Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. In addition, any possible Phase 2 opening shall be consistent with all state and local government directives and recommendations.
CoCoCo and church staff are actively evaluating and developing appropriate criteria and guidelines for any such potential Phase 2 opening. We anticipate that those criteria and guidelines will be published later in 2020.
We envision initial indoor events/meetings may include activities such as the following:
Meditation, Small Group Ministries, book clubs, religious education classes, small Vespers services, and Board and committee meetings.
We anticipate that the following activities would not be permitted in Phase 2:
Singing, chanting, and activities involving physical exertion or vigorous movement.
The criteria/guidelines currently under consideration for Phase 2 include:
The appropriate PCR test positivity rate and new cases per capita rate;
Appropriate procedures in alignment with MLUC’s existing Illness Policy to enable contact tracing by health authorities and/or notification by the church in the event that a participant develops symptoms of Covid-19 or tests positive for the virus;
Indoor events/meetings only when St. David’s Nursery School or camp is not in session;
Appropriate requirements for the wearing of face coverings, social distancing, and other restrictions to limit the chance of infection for participants, church staff and others;
Terms of an appropriate revised covenant for Phase 2 events;
The number of events/meetings per day and their scheduling as well as, whether events/meeting may be held simultaneously, the maximum number of people (including staff) permitted in the church building at a given time;
Key limitations including appropriate space for such events/meetings (e.g. larger rooms than would normally be required);
Maximum length of such events/meetings;
A strategy and protocols for cleaning/disinfecting the church building and/or cleansing the air;
How to make events/meetings as accessible and inclusive as possible for all participants based on their needs and/or concerns;
Guidelines for possible use of the indoor bathrooms; and
Childcare guidelines so parents may attend indoor events/meetings.
Phase 3 Opening – Larger Indoor Events/Meetings
Any potential Phase 3 opening will occur only after the following prerequisites:
- Phase 2 has been successfully operating for a sustained period;
- There is a further sustained and substantial decrease in both the PCR test positivity rate, and the new cases per capita rate over a period of time in each of Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties;
- The Governor of Pennsylvania permits meetings of more than 25 people indoors.More and larger indoor events/meetings may be allowed as well as a wider range of activities.Additional criteria and guidelines for such Phase 3 events/meetings will be evaluated and developed as the situation unfolds.
Some Current Assumptions About Responsibilities/Activities of the Church Staff
- Subject to the guidelines, the church staff will retain the right to refuse to permit a given event/meeting, to restrict the number of events/meetings, to regulate the day and time of a given event/meeting, to limit the number of permitted attendees, and to impose other reasonable restrictions.
- The staff will develop and implement protocols, including online forms, etc., to facilitate the process for requesting and scheduling outdoor, and if and when appropriate, indoor events/meetings.
- The Executive Director will discuss the potential implications of these proposed guidelines with St. David’s Nursery School.
- The church staff will consult with appropriate state and local health authorities and other relevant government authorities to ensure that any plans and guidelines for reopening the church for in-person events/meetings are and remain fully compliant and in accordance with all applicable laws, regulations, mandates, etc.
Addendum 1 – November 17, 2020
Suspension of Phase 1 Outdoor Events/Meetings
The Guidelines specify that if certain pandemic measures exceeded specified levels, CoCoCo and the church staff would reassess Phase 1 to determine if outdoor events/meetings may continue. Given the recent rise in Covid-19 cases in the region, representatives of CoCoCo and the staff met on October 30, 2020 to evaluate the situation.
Unfortunately, the pandemic conditions have got increasingly worse since then. For the week of November 6-12, the PCR test positivity rate in each of the four local counties exceeded 7.0% with Delaware Co. at 9.9% and Philadelphia Co. at 12.5%. Similarly, for the same period the number of new cases per 100,000 people in each of the four counties was over 140 with 233.7 cases per 100,000 in Delaware Co. and 270.4 cases per 100,000 in Philadelphia Co. In addition, Philadelphia Co. has now imposed additional restrictions, including on outdoor meetings
CoCoCo has always stressed that our primary consideration must be the safety of congregants, staff, family members, and others, many of whom are older, have pre-existing conditions, are immune compromised, or are otherwise at higher risk from the virus.
After careful consideration, CoCoCo and the staff have concluded that all Phase 1 outdoor events/meetings (whether on church grounds or elsewhere, including parks, private gardens or outdoor restaurants) shall be suspended effective immediately. Subject to the existing guidelines, however, people may continue to use the church’s playground, the Memorial Garden, or the Labyrinth on an ad hoc basis rather than as part of any organized event/meeting,
The drive-by donation of items to support the Norristown Hospitality Center, which is scheduled for Saturday, November 28, shall continue subject to such additional restrictions as the staff may require. In addition, CoCoCo and the staff may schedule other similar drive-by events for the holiday season.
CoCoCo and the staff shall meet again in mid-December 2020 to reassess the situation.
No Indoor In-Person Meetings for Church Groups
Given the developing state of the pandemic, we also do not anticipate being able to move to Phase 2 limited in-person indoor events/meetings any time soon. To be clear, no group or committee officially associated with the church (including, without limitation, SGM groups, committees, neighborhood groups, meditation, yoga, RE classes, etc.) should meet in person in any indoor location whether in the church, a private home, a restaurant, or any other place unless and until the Phase 2 guidelines are adopted and implemented. No exceptions shall be permitted unless the then current Guidelines so permit or the Executive Director expressly agrees otherwise in advance.
Of course, church members may choose to gather indoors for a social event with other church members in a private home, restaurant, etc. at their own discretion and as compatible with relevant government restrictions, but such a gathering should not be part of or directly related to any official church meeting or event.
Addendum 2 – November 17, 2020
Further Guidance for Limited Access to Church Buildings
No church member or volunteer should enter the church building except on an as needed basis (1) to visit the office on church business, to pick up or drop off materials at the church, or to meet with a members of the church staff, (2) to rehearse, record or livestream content for a church service or other church event as expressly authorized by the church staff (e.g. the live Auction, teachers for yoga classes, etc.), (3) to pick up keys, equipment or supplies for authorized outdoor activity on church grounds (e.g. gardening), or (4) in connection with an official church event as authorized by the church staff (e.g. a holiday celebration).
The following guidelines shall apply to such access to the church building:
- The church staff shall be solely responsible for deciding the terms and conditions for staff access to and use of the building, including the number of staff members permitted in the building and provisions regarding mask wearing, social distancing, etc.
- The church staff may set such criteria and rules for access to the church building by church members, volunteers, etc. as they deem appropriate, including the number of people who may be the office or otherwise in the church building at the same time, the timeframes and amount of time when people may be in the building, etc.
- To the extent feasible, church members and volunteers shall be discouraged from entering the building, including the office, when St. David’s Nursery School is in session.
- To the extent feasible, any church members, volunteers or other persons (including gardeners) who need to visit the office or otherwise have temporary access to the building shall contact Mary Heil in advance so she can coordinate their visit/access. This shall include picking up or dropping off materials at the church, or picking up keys, equipment or supplies for outdoor activities.
- Church members, volunteers or other persons shall ensure that their visit to the office or other access to the building shall be for the minimum amount of time possible, and that they will promptly leave the building upon completing their business. People should not remain in the building just to chat or hang out.
- Church members, volunteers or other visitors must wear a mask, face shield or other appropriate face covering over both their nose and mouth at all times when in the building and to the extent possible, maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet from every other person at all times (with an exception for people from the same household). An exception to the requirement to wear a face covering is permitted if the person is making a recording or livestream for a church service or other event, but the face covering must be replaced as soon as feasible after each recording/livestream.
- When making a recording or livestream for a church service or other event, the participants should stagger their attendance to minimize the number of people in the Main Meeting Room or other room at the same time. The number of people participating in each recording/livestream session should be kept to a minimum – preferably just one or two people being recorded and one audio visual person. To the extent feasible, appropriate social distancing should be maintained at all times during such recordings/livestreams.
- Church members and volunteers should not use the indoor toilets when in the building but instead use the outside porta potty. This also applies to gardeners and any other participants in outside activities.
- For certain special events (e.g. a holiday celebration or a food drive), the church staff may permit church members, volunteers and others to access the building to set up for and/or participate in the event. The church staff shall set the terms and conditions for such access to and use of the building. However, church members, volunteers or other visitors for such events should abide by the guidelines above, including wearing a mask, face shield or other appropriate face covering over both their nose and mouth at all times when in the building, to the extent possible, maintaining a social distance of at least 6 feet from every other person at all times (with an exception for people from the same household), and minimizing the number of people and the amount of time each person spends in the building.
Covenant for all MLUC Attendees
Phase 1 Outdoor Events/Meetings
In order to be permitted to participate in each MLUC outdoor event/meeting during Phase 1 and to protect the health and well-being of my fellow participants, the church staff, and others, I covenant and agree:
- To maintain social distancing and wear a mask, face shield or other appropriate face covering at all appropriate times as follows:
- to the extent possible, maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet from every other person at all times (with an exception for people from my own household);
- refrain from talking to people outside my own household unless at least 6 feet apart:
- wear a mask, face shield or other appropriate face covering over both my nose and mouth when arriving and leaving the event/meeting and whenever close to another person outside my own household; and
- only if seated and distanced at least 6 feet from every other person, remove my face covering (but replace it immediately if I move or am approached by another person).
- To bring my own chair, blankets, etc. and not share them with other people who are not from my own household.
- That eating/drinking may be allowed at outdoor events/meetings if deemed appropriate by the event/meeting organizers or church staff members but only if all participants are seated, and at a minimum social distance of six feet (other than people from the same household), and that if eating/drinking is permitted, I must bring my own food/drink and not share them with other people who are not from my own household.
- that neither I nor any person in my household:
- has tested positive for the virus in the 14 days prior to this specific event/meeting;
- currently or in the 14 days prior to this specific event/meeting have had a fever or any other Covid-19 symptoms (with an exception if I or the other symptomatic person subsequently tested negative for the virus after experiencing such symptoms);
- to the best of my knowledge, has been exposed to any person who is or was infected with the virus in the 14 days prior to this specific event/meeting; nor
- has attended any event or otherwise engaged in any activity in the 14 days prior to this specific event/meeting that might reasonably have placed me or that person at a higher risk of exposure to the virus (including having been in those 14 days in one or more of the states currently identified as high-risk states by the Pennsylvania Department of Health).
- To evaluate carefully whether I should attend this event/meeting if I feel that I may be immune-compromised or otherwise particularly vulnerable to the virus or have an especially vulnerable person in my household.
- To use my own or any provided hand sanitizer regularly during the meeting/event, especially on arriving and leaving.
- To use only the outdoor porta potties (as indoor bathroom use is not permitted).
- That if I do not have a copy of a signed covenant from a previous event/meeting with me at a subsequent event/meeting, I will sign another copy of this covenant.
- That if I refuse or repeatedly fail to abide by the terms of this covenant or any other reasonable requests of the event/meeting organizers or the church staff, I may be asked to leave the event/meeting.
[Date of Signing]