On Friday, February 5, 2021, Iowa’s Governor Kim Reynolds signed a new Public Health Disaster proclamation, effective February 7, 2021, that relaxes the state’s limited mask requirements, social distancing requirements, and limits on gatherings. The proclamation strongly encourages Iowans, businesses, and organizations to take reasonable public health measures consistent with guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
In her proclamation Governor Reynolds states, “I continue to strongly encourage all vulnerable Iowans, including those with preexisting medical conditions and those over than 65, in all counties of the state to continue to limit their activities outside of their home, including their visits to businesses and other establishments and their participation in gatherings of any size and any purpose. And I encourage all Iowans to limit their in-person interactions with vulnerable Iowans and to exercise particular care and caution when engaging in any necessary interactions.”
Although this proclamation loosens restrictions on social distancing and gatherings and puts those requirements in the hands of those who are organizing the gathering to “take reasonable measures to protect those who attend,” the Iowa Annual Conference’s Re-entry Team strongly encourages our congregations to remain in the Yellow Light Status and continue to physically distance, mask, and adhere to the Yellow Status protocols.
See below for additional information:
Level 2: Yellow Light Status
At the original writing of this document, we anticipated Yellow Light Status (proceeding with caution) would cover a significant number of months and take us through many liturgical seasons. As the IAUMC, we want to “Do Good" as restrictions are lifted or reinstated in the state of Iowa. As we continue in Yellow Light Status, local communities of faith should practice gradual return to gatherings such as worship, small groups, and special services and continue to do so in a cautionary manner.
For a greater understanding of why re-opening a church is different than other businesses or entities, please check out this blogpost from the Florida Conference: https://www.flumc.org/blogdetail/why-reopening-a-church-is-different-13998530
Level 2: Yellow Light Status - Safer Choices for Indoor Worship and Church Activities:
Worship & Group Gatherings
Limit attendance and maintain a list of who is present in case it is needed for contact tracing. A general rule to follow is 25% capacity.
Each household should have ways to effectively distance from other households in attendance. This is, at minimum, a 6-foot circumference. Organized seating and dismissal by ushers can help with distancing. Usher in front to back and usher out back to front.
The wearing of face masks is strongly encouraged. While this is a respiratory virus, we also encourage local settings to maintain a low-touch environment of persons and property (i.e., no traditional passing of the peace, project lyrics, no gathering upfront for children’s time, etc.)
Projecting one’s voice as a worship leader (preacher, liturgist, chanting) creates as much aerosol as singing. While it is difficult to lead in worship with a mask on, you are encouraged to invest in a face shield when you unmask during worship. At a minimum, we encourage all who are leading worship from the chancel area to maintain an additional physical distance of up to 15-feet from the front pew/row, wear a mask, keep 6-feet apart from other worship leaders, take temperatures of the team before worship and avoid sharing microphones.
We have been asked about plexiglass shields around praise teams, the lectern, and the pulpit. Plexiglass shields are generally unhelpful.
Maintain your online worship options. If your only online offering is streaming your
“live" in-person worship option, pitch your delivery to the online audience more than the audience in the sanctuary.
Strongly encourage flu shots! Health officials recommend flu vaccination by October.
Refrain from wind/musical instruments requiring breath.
Keep up to date with ongoing research on the use of music during the pandemic. Here is a curated (and continuously updated) list of resources and updates about congregational singing and COVID-19: https://thehymnsociety.org/covid-19/
Abstain from congregational or choral singing. Some alternatives: audio or video recordings, prayerful reading of hymn lyrics while the tune is played, soloist, hand signs, sign language, clapping, rhythm instruments, dancing. Resources for review:
A Conversation: What Do Science and Data Say About the Near Term Future of Singing, National Association of Teachers of Singing
The coronavirus pandemic and aerosols: Does COVID-19 transmit via expiratory particles? Aerosol Science and Technology.
Generation and Behavior of Airborne Particles (Aerosols). CDC, National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/aerosols/pdfs/Aerosol_101.pdf Nelson, Heather, Ph.D. “Singing and COVID-19: A Caution for Moving”
Level 2: Yellow Light Status - General recommendations for those leading and participating in worship, small groups, and other onsite gatherings:
Wear cloth face masks while at church, as is also recommended in public spaces.
Offering Baptisms and Communion/Eucharist safely will continue to be a challenge, as touching a face mask (to remove or shift it) contaminates it and brings with it varying levels of exposure. No skin-to-skin contact is recommended during baptisms; it is recommended that parents hold babies and small children as the pastor performs the rite. No contact must also be attended to as the distribution of communion elements is a risk to the communion steward and the recipient. One recommendation is to participate in the Great Thanksgiving at the service end providing individual cups and bread. These must be supplied by gloved stewards and placed in the recipient’s open hands upon exiting at the end of the service. This may mean some congregations will choose to postpone further offering in-person communion.
Singing and liturgical responses are among the riskier practices for spreading droplets/aerosols, carrying the virus a significant distance, and remaining suspended in the air. A cloth mask is unlikely to be enough to protect you or your neighbor even as you practice appropriate physical distancing. The recommendation is to avoid singing/liturgical responses in the sanctuary while the congregation is gathered.
Use no-touch alternatives for passing the peace, collecting offering, and liturgical resources. Consider removing pew Bibles, hymnals, and friendship pads, especially if you have multiple services—use bulletins (do not reuse) or screens as alternatives. If you keep these resources in the pews, provide for wipe down after each service.
For children’s time, do not have children come forward. Instead, create from you-to-the-pew story moments engaging children from safe distancing.
Distancing: Have people spread out in the sanctuary space. Allow only one family unit per pew with measured markers indicating the proper physical distance in approved and marked seating areas. Explore meeting in a fellowship hall or outdoors if your space is small.
Do not offer fellowship/coffee hour. Food and drink hospitality only resumes at Green Light Status. Continue encouraging people to leave the building rather than mingling.
Consider offering life ritual services in more traditional ways. Funerals, weddings, graduation, and confirmation gatherings should pay careful attention to limiting and inviting guests and keeping proper physical distance.
To review your county data, go to:
Iowa Covid Tracker at: https://iowacovid19tracker.org/
https://coronavirus.iowa.gov/pages/percent-school-district-positive-analysis from Iowa agencies.
You will find there are inconsistencies in the reports as these groups are following and reporting their information/metrics differently. Look for pieces of information that are confirmed between two or more sites.
Additionally, we would encourage your leadership to access the Vaccine education and availability guidelines from the Iowa Department of Public Health and share this resource with your congregations. Also, to encourage your faith community to get their flu shots if they have not yet done so.
For updated information from the Iowa Department of Public Health, go to: https://idph.iowa.gov/emerging-health-issues/novel-coronavirus
We will not achieve Level 1: Green Light Status until the virus is contained and our people are safe. Permission will be granted to communities of faith to return to full activity and mass gatherings will be permitted. This will be in place only as church leadership is confident in the care of their community of faith. Green lighting for all activities will likely be guided by 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 for all seeking the vaccination. At the writing of this article, it is anticipated 70% will be vaccinated by end of second quarter 2021; due to this projection we will likely not achieve Green Light Status until mid to late summer.