The Iowa United Methodist Conference Re-entry team recommends a cautionary return as you reconvene or expand in-person gatherings

The Iowa United Methodist Conference Re-entry team recommends a cautionary return as you reconvene or expand in-person gatherings

March 05, 2021

As of March 4, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 598 new positive COVID-19 tests and 35 additional deaths. The state reports 742,386 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Iowa, with 196,084 individuals completing their vaccine series. Additionally, vaccines Iowa’s virus positivity rates continue to hover around 4%. The 14-day average dropped from 4.2% to 4.1%. The 7-day average fell from 4.1% to 4.0%. State data shows 4,105,183 COVID-19 tests have been administered in Iowa.
 
The Iowa United Methodist Conference recommends a cautionary return as you reconvene or expand in-person gatherings; the majority of Iowa churches remain in Yellow Light Status.
 
Level 2: Yellow Light Status - Cautionary Return - We anticipate this will cover a number of months and likely last through summer 2021, if not longer. As the IAUMC, we want to “Do Good” as restrictions lift. This means a gradual return to gatherings and doing so in a cautionary manner.  
 
Level 1: Green Light Status - When we finally reach the “Do No Harm” phase, it will be because the virus is contained and our people are safe. When we get here, churches/faith communities will have returned to full activity, and mass gatherings without precautions will be permitted. This will be in place only as church leadership is confident in the care of their community of faith and that positivity rates have been below 5% for at least one month, AND vaccination rates are at 75-80% in your county (recommended standard as herd immunity is potential once this percentage is attained). Green lighting for all activities will likely be guided by the testing protocol for asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers, antibody testing, therapeutic drug therapies aggressively caring for those who have contracted COVID-19, and approval and availability of a COVID-19 vaccine.  
 
WHERE ARE WE? We receive a common question from church leadership and pastors is “Which phase of reopening are we in?” and “How do we plan for reentry moving from yellow to green phase?” Be aware that whatever county you are in, we can continue to track county numbers at https://iowacovid19tracker.org/.   
 
WHAT DO WE DO TO BEGIN GRADUAL REENTRY:
Based on our conversations with public health experts regarding current conditions and what prudent for the care of faith communities, we do encourage the following: 
  1. Masks. Distancing. Hygiene Protocols. Please maintain these practices. When you begin gathering in physical space again, plan on event modifications, mitigations, and protective behaviors until COVID in the community is very low. Expect these modifications to continue for a significant amount of time, perhaps through the summer or longer. You will want to create a plan for both indoor and outdoor gatherings.
  2. We also recommend monitoring the data maintained by your county to keep track of more local conditions.
    a. https://idph.iowa.gov/ (Iowa Department of Public Health) 
    b. https://globalepidemics.org (Brown School of Public Health) 
  3. We recommend care of one another in all ministry decisions as part of your witness of faith as you tend to in-person gatherings, continue virtual ministry options, and also encourage advocacy for vulnerable and marginalized populations by advocating church/community members who qualify as priority populations for vaccines but are unable to secure appointments. 
  4. Churches should take a two-step approach to gather, tracking the following data:
    a. FIRST, watch vaccination rates. According to CDC, when more than 50% of the population is vaccinated, we can expect that it will begin to impact viral transmission (although “herd immunity” will not likely be fully reached until vaccination rates exceed 75%).
        •  https://covidactnow.org/?s=1637578  (Covid & Vaccine Tracker) 
        •  https://coronavirus.iowa.gov/pages/vaccineinformation (Iowa Vaccine Information) 
    b. THEN, track COVID cases and positivity tests. While the State of Iowa has changed their tracking process, you can still gather county data
        •  https://iowacovid19tracker.org/. (County Numbers/ Percentages) 
  5. Singing/Liturgy/Community Gatherings - Indoors: Limited singing/responsive liturgy is an option where masking is mandated. If masks are optional, you are encouraged only to have worship leaders be “in voice” (preacher, liturgist, song-leaders). For congregations/faith communities requiring masks, soft singing, soft voice speaking is allowable and encouraged. Also, in places where masks are optional, for those who do mask, double masking is encouraged as an extra precaution.