The November report by the Reopening Task Force is available on our website. Consequently, we have a few questions that have come to us regarding that report. Since others may be interested in the same things, here’s a follow-up for all.
Who is making our re-opening decisions?
Why the Reopening Task Force, of course (catchy name, right?). Their names lead the November report but to save you a click, here they are again: Kay Aler-Maida, Michael Beech, John Bloomer, Kim Collins, Amy Moore, Gina Phairas, Venny Zachritz and additional participants Rev. Cathy Harrington, Clyde Hardin, Iris Hardin, Adam Griffith. And as an FYI, although there was a request for volunteers for this Task Force in the Weekly eNews last spring, all of these people graciously said yes when recruited since no one volunteered themselves.
If you have questions or concerns about our reopening, please ask anyone on the Reopening Task Force, the Board, or any staff member (email addresses are on the website). If they don’t know an answer, they’ll find out and get back to you.
Are we following State, County, and City COVID protocols?
Definitely for Sunday services. Can’t do much more than require vaccines, wear masks, and pay attention to some distancing. We’re doing front-to-back distancing but not enforcing side-to-side distancing although 75 people in the Sanctuary seem to do it naturally. However, for smaller meetings at church we are not requiring masking, even though these would be indoors. Because Sandburg Hall is so big and gatherings of less than 15 have plenty of air volume and space to work in, we are allowing those groups to agree to the rules they want to follow as a group. That means they may choose, as a group, to not wear masks while in a meeting. We do trust that UUs understand their own risk tolerance as well as the power of covenants, consensus, and right relationships to make the right decision for the group.
Does the UUA issue re-opening guidelines? If so, are we following them?
Yes, they do. No, we don’t. Because we are very concerned that we are losing our sense of community with each other, and have some congregants who are extremely eager to worship in person, we have chosen to meet in person even though UUA guidelines would have us remain closed as long as Buncombe County infection rates are very high, which they currently are (and have been since early fall). We believe that people always live in a state of risk and know their own levels of risk-taking. They can choose to attend in person, watch the live stream synchronously or asynchronously, or do none of it. We are desperately trying to keep people engaged with the congregation in any way they feel comfortable.
Do we have a way of doing hybrid Zoom/in-person meetings in Sandburg Hall?
Mostly, yes. The same tech folks who are working hard to perfect our new A/V equipment will get that system up and running soon, with instructions for all. (In fact, we’ve already done that a couple of times so if you’re technically capable, you can do it yourself.) However, we cannot afford to pay tech people to work extra meetings so only people who are capable of setting up computers, a speaker, and latching onto Zoom will be able to run meetings that way.
When do we expect to be fully re-opened?
No idea. As long as there is a large pool of unvaccinated people somewhere on the planet, mutations will keep occurring.
Why does the report mention reopening with a maximum number of 50 people when, less than 1 month later, that number increased to 75?
Turns out that in July the Reopening Task Force produced a report that we did not release because Delta became rampant at that point. In that report, we had this to say:
Rather than use volunteer time to plan for a variety of scenarios “just in case,” the Task Force agrees that UUCA staff will be charged with adjusting these recommendations as things change. This might mean loosening recommendations, tightening masking requirements, or shutting down again. Just as we were in March 2020, we will be light on our feet and FLEXIBLE!!!!
That paragraph was accidentally omitted in the November version but still applies. When we saw the level of emptiness in the room with 50 people (several available rows were completely empty), we realized that we could still fit in 75 and have a safe environment.
With infection rates likely to rise as people choose to gather indoors together for the holidays, why DID staff decide to increase the number for indoor worship services?
On the first Sunday that we tried it, we took a look at the space that 50 people used in the Sanctuary and felt that spacing would still be adequate at 75. Aside from the fact that it is extremely likely that a larger percentage of congregants are triple-vaccinated than the general population in Buncombe County, we are also requiring vaccinations, masks, and front-to-back distancing. Further, since we know that people can certainly still be uncomfortable with that, our services are now always available online. (Closed link that everyone receives on Sunday mornings.)
Why does the report state under the heading “Masks” that “Masks will be required for now,” yet in the last paragraph of the report, it states “Groups below 15 may make their own rules for meeting (e.g., no masks while indoors).”
As noted, there are rules for large worship services and separate suggestions for meetings of 15 and under. For large meetings we feel that requiring masks is essential at this time, no matter vaccination status, although as the report notes we are also requiring vaccinations for all eligible participants. Should people be uncomfortable with any of the prevailing conditions, our services are now always available online. (Closed link that everyone receives on Sunday mornings.)
However, when it comes to smaller meetings, we believe that UUs understand covenants and right-relationships, so we ask that each group that meets arrives at a consensus set of rules for that group. We have small groups choosing to meet online, choosing to meet at church, choosing to meet in people’s homes, choosing to meet outside when weather permits. These are all determined by the groups themselves. Further, when people meet at the church, they are meeting in Sandburg Hall, which is a large space with enhanced air purifying equipment.
At this time, all Religious Exploration classes for children and youth are required to wear masks at all times while inside buildings, no matter the size of the group.
When will the Reopening Task Force meet again?
This group is convened when conditions change dramatically enough to warrant another group discussion (via Zoom). A meeting can be called by any member of the Task Force. What we’re seeing on Sunday mornings is that people are definitely making their own decisions about how and where they spend their time. For the two Sundays that we have had more open registration, Sunday #1 had a full 50 in attendance. Sunday #2, open to 75, had 38 in attendance. So far for this coming Sunday (Sunday #3) our registrations are still under 40 with 75 available.
Linda Topp, DIrector of Administration