Bishop David Bard talks about the continuing pandemic and how Michigan United Methodists can promote public health and further the common good as COVID enters a new phase.
Dear Friends in Christ in the United Methodist Churches of Michigan,
I greet you in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the peace and power of the Holy Spirit.
I hope the summer has afforded you opportunities for rest, refreshment, and renewal. I hope you have been able to enjoy the beauty of our state. I hope you have been able to connect with family and friends, perhaps after a long absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even as we have enjoyed the summer, we are aware of significant troubling events in our world. As I write, we are watching with deep heartbreak the devastation wrought by an earthquake in Haiti. Please know the Michigan Conference is working on recommending ways we can best reach out and provide needed aid, and you will hear about that soon. We are witnessing the end of United States military involvement in Afghanistan and witness the discouragement and despair among many Afghans as the Taliban take control of the country. Wildfires consume communities, and Michiganders have experienced power outages and flooding due to severe summer storms, events that are likely related to a changing climate.
In the midst of it all, we are not yet done with COVID. The summer began with a deep hope that we were putting this pandemic in the rear-view mirror. People were being vaccinated at rapid rates. Case rates, test positivity rates, hospitalizations, and deaths were all declining. Yet this pandemic has been filled with unpredictability, and we are once again entering a new phase. Vaccination rates have slowed considerably, and a new variant of the coronavirus, the Delta variant, has spread rapidly. The Delta variant is more easily transmitted, and there have been breakthrough cases among those who have been vaccinated. The latest research indicates that vaccinated people, though remarkably protected from being infected with COVID, are still able to become infected. When they are infected, they are less likely to suffer severe illness or be hospitalized, yet appear able to spread the virus to others. The result of the slowing of vaccinations and the spread of the Delta variant is that test positivity rates are up, now about 7% in Michigan. Case rates are up, hospitalizations and deaths are increasing, particularly in those places where fewer people have been vaccinated.
I know that, in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ, you want to do all you can to promote public health, further the common good, and care for the well-being of others. How might we do that in this new phase of the pandemic?
First and foremost, if you have not been vaccinated and are eligible to receive a vaccine, do it. It is the single most important thing you can do to care for yourself and others. Those currently suffering the most serious illness right now are the unvaccinated. Of those currently hospitalized with COVID, well over 90% are people who have not been vaccinated. Please get vaccinated. Encourage your fellow church members to get vaccinated. If you are eligible for a booster shot due to an immune-compromising condition, get your booster shot.
For our churches, please pay attention to what is happening in your community. Pay attention to test positivity rates, case rates, vaccination rates, and hospitalizations. Ideally, we want to achieve a positivity rate below 5%. A case rate of over 25 new daily cases per 100,000 people is considered the highest risk level. As I write this, about 54% of Michiganders eligible for vaccinations have received at least one dose. Yet vaccines for children under 12 are not yet authorized. Pay attention to the vaccination rates among your congregation.
Pay attention and then respond accordingly. Given rising case positivity rates across the state, it makes sense that our churches would strongly encourage masking by everyone when meeting in person and indoors. Outdoor gatherings are a wonderful alternative when weather permits, and even here, masking should be welcomed, particularly if you are gathered closely together. If you are in a high-risk area, consider mandating masks for indoor, in-person gatherings. After vaccinations, masks are the next best tool we have for slowing the spread of the coronavirus, and slowing the spread also prevents the virus from developing into new variants. Together, masking and vaccinations will help us stem the rising tide of the coronavirus, including the Delta variant.
Friends, we are not where we had hoped to be at this point in the summer. We had hoped vaccination rates would have outpaced virus variations. We had hoped that our masks could be put in the bottom of our drawers or the back of our closets. Yet, I believe that by God’s grace, we can muster the resilience, the kindness, and the determination to do what needs to be done to get past this pandemic. Then, as followers of Jesus, we can lead in promoting public health, furthering the common good, and caring for the well-being of others. Thank you.
Grace and Peace,