Aug. 29, 2022
Dear Colleagues in the Diocese of Massachusetts,
Grace and peace to you as we approach autumn and the resumption of many events in the churches of our diocese.
When we last wrote to you about COVID-19 precautions in March, the Omicron variant had brought a surge of new cases all over the nation and in countries around the world in the winter months. Thankfully, caseloads fell dramatically in the weeks that followed. While public health officials continue to urge caution as other variants have emerged, especially for those who are not fully vaccinated and those most vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19, there has not been anything akin to the surges that occurred earlier in the pandemic.
While the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths continues to be high in certain parts of the nation, Massachusetts is a national leader in vaccine acceptance. This has meant that, while COVID-19 infections remain a concern, community risk levels in the Commonwealth have remained low for several months.
Nevertheless, we continue to urge caution in church gatherings, especially for those who are at greater risk of severe disease from COVID-19 infection. We continue to support any clergy, vestries and regathering teams who conclude that, in their local context, more restrictive measures on gatherings need to be maintained.
We want to be clear that, should there be a significant resurgence of COVID-19 infections in our region, we all may need to return to more restrictive safety practices that will help prevent a rise in severe illness and death and prevent undue stress on our medical care system. At diocesan events, including the annual Diocesan Convention in October, we will observe safety protocols to minimize the risk of transmission.
With these developments in mind, and in the hope that severe COVID-19 infections will remain low, we offer the following recommendations and requirements.
Grateful blessings to you,
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris
- Physical distancing: While there are no capacity limits on church services and events, we urge that each church provide an area in which attendees can maintain physical distance of six feet. Such areas should be clearly marked and expandable to accommodate all who wish to observe this safety measure.
- Masks: In line with guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, we advise that individuals should wear a mask or face covering when indoors (and not in their own home) if they have a weakened immune system, or if they are at increased risk for severe disease because of age or an underlying medical condition, or if someone in their household has a weakened immune system, or is at increased risk for severe disease.
- Promote good ventilation, such as running air circulators or opening windows when weather permits.
- Holy Communion: There are no restrictions on the distribution of Holy Communion, though individuals at higher risk from COVID infection may wish to refrain from receiving from the common cup. As described in our March 28, 2022, communique, intinction continues to be discouraged, and pandemic accommodations for alternative methods of administering the cup continue to be authorized.
- Care for the most vulnerable: Full COVID vaccination, including booster shots, is required of all persons, clergy or lay, who are engaged in ministry with the most vulnerable, including unvaccinated children, homebound or immune-compromised persons, and those in hospitals and care facilities.
- Pastoral visits: Masks are required for all pastoral visits in the homes of those who are sick or at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Pastoral visits should be brief and minimal physical proximity is safer.
- Stay attuned to the state of COVID-19 in your area. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a COVID-19 Data Tracker to help you monitor community transmission and key indicators in your county. COVID Act Now also provides helpful metrics for discerning community risk levels.
- Strongly encourage vaccination and booster shots, and regularly publish information about how to access the vaccine.
Canon Bill Parnell is available to respond to questions and concerns and can be reached at email@example.com or 617-482-4826, ext. 205.