The Next Right Step: Responding to Increasing COVID-19 Rates
For God alone my soul in silence waits;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold, so that I shall not be greatly shaken.
Put your trust in him always, O people,
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.
Psalm 62:1-2, 9
Dear Friends in Christ,
A few weeks ago, I could almost see light at the end of this long COVID-19 tunnel. After three months of relative isolation, the situation in Texas and other places was looking brighter. Many churches in the Diocese ofWest Texas were cautiously and partially reopening.
Now, of course, that perspective has changed as the virus has spread rapidly and dangerously throughout the state and many of our communities, reaching impact levels far beyond what we had experienced previously. Confirmed case counts and positivity rates are climbing, and in many parts of the Diocese, hospitals and medical care are being stretched very thin.
Since issuing diocesan Guidelines for Phased Reopening ofChurches on May 1st, almost all of our 87 congregations have developed excellent and thorough plans to guide their gradual reopening, as well as position their church to respond quickly when the pandemic surges, as it is doing now. In the areas where COVID-19 is spreading rapidly, almost all of our churches have cancelled in-person worship, delayed reopening, or further reduced in-person gatherings. Most continue to offer live-stream or recorded services and other opportunities for people to gather online.
Thank you to all our clergy and lay leaders who have worked so hard to develop plans and have been so careful in their implementation. As you continue to make decisions regarding suspending or resuming in-person worship services or gatherings, please keep Archdeacon Mike Besson informed.The diocesan office receives frequent questions from clergy and lay leaders throughout the diocese, wondering what other churches are doing, and being able to provide relatively current responses is helpful to our shared ministry.
Now is the time, individually and as churches, to recommit fully to using the basic tools available to us to reduce risk to our congregations and our communities:
- Maintaining habits of physical distancing in public, by six feet or more
- Wearing a mask at all times when in close contact with others
- Staying home, if you or a family member experiences anyCOVID-19 symptoms
- Sanitizing shared areas and surfaces frequently
- Washing your hands thoroughly and frequently
Congregations gathering in person for worship, should do all of the above, and also
- Remember gathering outside is less risky than gathering inside
- Continue following and communicating your local protocols
- Consult regularly with local health and medical professionals
- Be mindful that singing is much riskier than speaking; health experts recommend maintaining 10 to 12 feet of separation between singers, and many recommend no congregational singing at all.
In addition to these best practices, stay informed about the current situation in your county. Following new consensus from public health officials, the "14-day consistent decline in confirmed cases" is now just one of several indicators that public health and medical professionals monitor carefully. Local church leadership should consider all of the following indicators as part of any decision regarding in-person offerings:
- Positivity rate: the percentage of positive cases, comparing the number of new confirmed COVID-19 test cases to the total new test results
- Doubling rate: the number of days it will take for the number of confirmed cases to double; a smaller doubling rate predicts a faster spread
- Hospitalizations: the daily count of patients admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 as well as numbers of patients in Intensive Care Units (ICU) and on ventilators
In the larger population centers within the Diocese, all of these numbers are increasing dramatically. County-by-county information is easily accessible and updated daily on the Texas Department of Health & Human Services website. Numerous other websites provide similar information and are listed on the diocesan website, at dwtx.org/covid19.
The big spikes, day-to-day anxieties, and future uncertainties are taking a toll on all of us. We are sick and tired ofCOVID-19, and also just plain tired. However, recommitting to reducing risk is grounded in our call and commitment to love one another as Christ loves us. Wearing masks and keeping our distance is one way, but checking in on one another will be just as important in the days to come. Call someone you care about, write a note, send a text, or email. Check on your clergy, and tell them thank you.
I’ve said and written several things during the past few months that hindsight and ongoing developments in the pandemic have rendered naïve or foolish. But this remains true: Jesus is Lord, COVID-19 will not prevail, and we are being led through this awful time together, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We would not choose this hard pilgrimage in place, but it is what we have been given, and odd as it sounds, God is offering us new, and renewed, ways of being Kingdom people. So let’s say our prayers, keep our eyes open, and stick together.
Love in Christ,
Bishop of West Texas