calendar May 26, 2021 in Communications, Public Health

Pandemic Progress Toward a New Normal

As new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations trend downward, our congregations can begin to look forward to our new abnormal for worship and congregational life.

“Focus on moving forward, not going back,” says Pastor Bob Fisher, assistant to the bishop for communications. “Worship won’t immediately be what we remember, yet the creativity we have employed will help us to create a safe, new abnormal.”

There are many reasons church may look different than it did pre-pandemic: Will people want to attend indoor worship? How do we protect unvaccinated children? How do we address the CDC’s bifurcated advice, telling vaccinated people they do not need masks in most situations, while those who are not vaccinated do? When and how might it be safe to sing in-person? How do we continue to serve people who are not comfortable coming to indoor worship?

Rather than raise a false expectation that things will be back to normal, prepare and encourage people for the opportunities for creativity and the uncertainty ahead.

Children and unvaccinated people continue to be at risk of infection, along with those who are vaccinated but have conditions that limit the vaccines’ efficacy. The Washington Post reports that the case rate among unvaccinated people in the US is as high as the rate for the entire population three weeks prior. In Pennsylvania, the death rate for unvaccinated people on May 19 was the same as the overall death rate on Feb. 23, nearly three months before. The rate is more than 50 percent higher than the national average for unvaccinated persons. This indicates that “unvaccinated people are not yet getting safer.”

Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota discusses the confusing messaging about masks in the latest episode of his podcast. The type of mask employed makes a huge difference in the amount of protection it affords. If an infected and a non-vaccinated person gather without masks, and are within six feet of one another, an infectious dose can be received in just 15 minutes. If the unvaccinated “receiver” wears a cloth mask that increases to 20 minutes; with a surgical mask to 30 minutes; and with an N95 mask, 2.5 hours or more. This is to say that the type of mask, distancing, and length of exposure all must be taking into consideration. (Osterholm addresses masks at 30:10 in the podcast, and comments on the CDC guidance at 48:30)


[ See guidance from infectious disease specialist Dr. Tim Babinchak ]


Safely reopening a building requires attention to its water system and devices, the CDC advises. Threats include the possibilities of mold, Legionnaires’ disease, and lead or copper infiltration into drinking water. TheWorld Health Organization offers a roadmap to ensure good indoor ventilation, which is key if people will be gathering indoors for extended times.

There are many decisions to be made as churches address the challenges of getting together in person. It is best to be deliberate rather than responding to the latest news cycle (which may change tomorrow). Be safe, and protect your members and your community.