With the COVID pandemic out of control in Michigan, Bishop David Bard summarizes safety guidelines and urges individuals and churches to exercise patience and care.
BISHOP DAVID BARD
Grace to you and peace, in the name of the risen Christ who is our hope and our joy.
On the morning of Tuesday, April 6, I gratefully received my second dose of a COVID vaccine at the Michigan State University Agricultural Pavilion. I am amazed by the organization of these mass vaccination sites. While driving home, I was listening to the radio, and the subject coincidentally was the coronavirus. During the discussion, Dr. Nancy Kass, Deputy Director of Public Health at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University, offered this observation about the coronavirus. “This virus loves nothing more than to find a large group of unvaccinated, unmasked human beings among whom it can dance and hop from person to person and go wild.”
“We all have a role to play in turning this situation around, as churches and as individual followers of Jesus Christ.”
Unfortunately, it seems that the coronavirus is doing a lot of dancing here in Michigan. “Nowhere in America is the coronavirus pandemic more out of control than in Michigan,” according to a story in The New York Times from April 10. As the virus has the opportunity to dance and hop and go wild, it also changes, and one reason for the spike in cases here in Michigan is the prevalence of new virus variants, particularly the B1.1.7, which are more contagious. Our cases of COVID have increased 59% in the past fourteen days. During that same period, deaths have increased 115%, and hospitalizations are up 111%. Children are now a higher percentage of new cases than ever before.
In light of this recent news about the coronavirus, I want to remind us that we all have a role to play in turning this situation around, as churches and as individual followers of Jesus Christ.
The guidance offered in January remains applicable as we seek to continue to care for public health, the common good, and others’ well-being while being in ministry together for Jesus Christ. I offer it again with this updated information:
Have a well-considered plan for in-person gatherings that is cautious and flexible.
I understand the deep desire to be together, and I know the risks posed by in-person gatherings, particularly indoor gatherings. How and when you gather should be based on reliable local community health information.
- How have new strains of the virus affected your area? What is the positivity rate for people being tested? A positivity rate below 5% has been seen as a guide allowing more in-person gatherings. The current positivity rate in Michigan is 12.6%. What is the case rate in your area? A case rate of over 25 new daily cases per 100,000 people is considered the highest risk level. The current rate in Michigan is 76.3. What is the capacity of health care services in your area, such as the availability of ICU beds? Flexibility in your planning dictates that you be ready to move from in-person to virtual gatherings when the health metrics indicate.
- Your plan for any in-person gatherings needs to include mitigation measures of mask-wearing, social distancing, adequate provisions for hand washing, and collecting contact information for those gathered if someone present is diagnosed with COVID. I expect such mitigation measures, particularly mask-wearing and some social distancing, will continue for months to come. Outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor gatherings, and even here, mitigation measures need to be in place.
- Be gracious in offering options for those who continue to choose to connect with your faith community virtually. Just because you’ve opened again for in-person worship does not mean everyone will deem it safe to return, particularly indoors. Continue to consider outdoor options for gatherings. Continue to find creative ways to connect safely with each other.
- Continue to actively encourage vaccinations as they become available. We will be able to increase the frequency of our in-person gatherings and relax mitigation measures as more people become immune to COVID.
Beyond this guidance, let me encourage deep patience among us. We have grown weary of this pandemic. We are increasingly restless. I know some of you have grown impatient with some of the decisions of your church leadership as they seek to make the most careful and caring decisions they can. Be patient. Yes, share your perspective, but if your wishes for in-person and indoor gatherings are not met right away, offer some extra grace.
“The same Jesus who invited us to not be afraid also encouraged us to be wise.”
And let me address, once again, the idea that paying attention to solid health advice” us to be wise. We need not be dominated by fear, but we do need to be wise, to be prudent. Wisdom asks of us to exercise good judgment. Love asks of us to care for each other.
I continue to be grateful for the thoughtful and careful ways you have all been making decisions about ministry during this pandemic. You continue to respond graciously, even when you are encouraged to do uncomfortable things. I appreciate your ongoing desire to act in the interest of public health, the common good, and the well-being of others, all in the spirit of Jesus. Thank you.