The Outbreak Task Force (OFT) met on June 22nd to formalize Session’s request to end the OTF, and to discuss steps to wrap-up the group’s official work in providing discernment and guidance for St. Andrew pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. The group was convened originally as a short-term committee in March 2020 in response to the growing concerns following King County and local school district concerns about large gatherings and the fast-growing body of international news of the pandemic. With local and national easing of COVID precautions, the OTF has served it’s purpose and is officially “sunsetting.”
While it is time to disband the OTF, contracting COVID still remains a possibility. To this end, you will still see the HEPA filters in the sanctuary and library used during gatherings, and the clipboard for sign-in will remain in the narthex for those attending worship. Contact your Deacon and the office if you test positive in the week following in-person participation at St. Andrew to allow notification of those in attendance. Masking will remain optional, we have returned to the pre-COVID ventilation procedures, and as always, we ask that if you are not feeling well because of virus or cold-like symptoms, please refrain from joining in person.
A huge thank you goes out to everyone in the congregation who responded quickly to the concerns, adapted and adhered to protocols, and gave us feedback along the way. The work behind the scenes to not miss providing a single worship service in the face of an abrupt facilities closure is truly outstanding and speaks to the love, faith, and determination of church leadership, volunteers, and the congregation. The work to get us back together in a reasonably safe manner and to address your concerns was also no small task.
Many, many people played a role in the OTF, and the following list is provided to highlight this fact, with sincere apologies in advance if any name has been accidentally omitted. Thank you to OTF co-chairs Andrea Shirey and Teresa Platin, committee members (both past and present) Scott Anderson, Dan Clawson, Laurie Rossnagel, Julie Kae Sigars, Amber Oaks, and advisors Melet Whinston, Don Patterson, Derona Uzzle, and Maggie Breen. Special thanks to the Golden Hammer and Saw Team for all of the work to implement mitigation measures within the facility. Another OTF nod goes to Chuck Sigars for the quick start-up of video worship services (and all the content contributors like the pastors, choir, musicians and weekly lectors) that helped us to protect each other and remain in communication, and later for the work of Richard Crummett and his livestreaming team of Joan Crummet, Roger Paulsen, and Jan Dittmar.
Moving forward, we ask that you share COVID concerns or questions with the Deacons. Thank you, all.
The St. Andrew COVID Task Force has been monitoring the guidance from the Washington State Department of Health Dashboard, the King County COVID-19 Dashboard, and Center for Disease Control Dashboard. While these are not perfect indicators of what is happening with COVID, they have been helpful in making recommendations for our church community.
Here is a list of guidelines in place that we will continue to follow:
· We are strongly recommending the continued use of KN95/N95 masks while in the building.
· Continue to wash your hands or use disinfectant.
· Continue to watch for body language if others would like to shake hands or hug during worship or would prefer to wave.
· Continue to sign in for worship so we can contact people if necessary.
· Continue to use the air purifiers, opened windows, fans, and the exhaust system to increase air circulation.
· Please stay home and view worship from the livestream if you are ill or have been exposed to COVID-19.
Here are some new guidelines:
· We are encouraging the lectors and preachers to make the decision to wear their mask or take it off at the pulpit. We understand that unmasked presenters are easier to understand. Each presenter can make their own decision.
· Eating and drinking in the church building is allowed. The decision to participate is up to the individual’s comfort level.
Please contact Teresa Platin or Andrea Shirey with any questions or discussions about these guidelines. Thank you for continuing to love our St. Andrew family and protect the vulnerable.
Thank you to everyone that participated in the Digging Deeper conversation on Tuesday night. It was wonderful to hear your thoughts and feelings about living with this new reality of COVID-19. If you didn’t get a chance to join us, we’d love to know how you are feeling! Teresa Platin and Andrea Shirey are open to conversations and feedback that we can relay to the rest of the Task Force.
On Tuesday, we learned that one of our congregants tested positive after attending worship on Sunday. Thankfully, they let us know right away. Instead of calling everyone in service, we intentionally informed worship participants through several ways. Scott informed everyone that was at the Elder and Deacon training and Teresa made an announcement at Digging Deeper. Everyone that was at worship last Sunday and possibly exposed that were not in these two groups were called by Andrea or Teresa. We are committed to letting everyone know of possible exposures. Thank you for being flexible in how you receive the message.
We know that this newest variant of COVID is highly contagious! We are continuing to meet as a Task Force to discuss ways to make worshiping together as safe as possible. As you know, though, we cannot ensure or guarantee that people will not be exposed to the virus. We are recommending that everyone, especially if you have additional risk factors that make you vulnerable to severe complications, talk with your healthcare providers about attending worship in person. We have an amazing team that works hard to provide livestreaming of our service each week.
We hold these values in high regard:
Face Mask Policy Changed From “Optional” To “Strongly Encouraged”
By Dan Clawson and Melet Whinston
(Melet Whinston, MD, is a family practitioner, and worked with King County Public Health during the first couple years of the pandemic as Medical Director in the Department of Community and Human Services, advising the Behavioral Health Division on COVID. Dan Clawson is the current President of the St. Andrew Board of Deacons, and has worked with the Outbreak Task Force on improving air quality at the church as a strategy to prevent the spread of COVID.)
The Outbreak Task Force, chaired by Teresa Platin, met via Zoom on Tuesday, May 10th to consider responses to the highly transmissible BA.2 Omicron variant. It was decided to move from a “masks optional” policy to a “masks strongly encouraged” policy , and to develop changes in worship procedures to better protect worshippers during this surge. Scott and Deacons will work collaboratively with vulnerable individuals to help them decide for themselves when it is advisable to attend services, and to assist all worshippers in effectively using face masks while at church.
Melet outlined the current facts that she finds very concerning. In places where precautions have been lifted, in particular masks, COVID cases have surged. High quality face masks, fitting properly and worn consistently and correctly, are very effective at preventing COVID transmission. Long COVID is emerging as a common condition with unknown and often serious consequences, even in young and healthy people. The current variant is infecting fully vaccinated and double boosted persons, although the vaccines do reduce the severity of symptoms. Guidance from the CDC and state and local agencies has often lagged behind the developing medical science.
Scott pointed out the very real need for worshippers to connect with worship leaders and the difficulty that face masks cause. Even the most vulnerable individuals have an emotional and spiritual need to be physically present at services to the extent it is reasonably safe. He will be looking at possible changes in the positioning of worship leaders and seating to put more distance between unmasked speakers and congregants while masks are kept on while not speaking.
Dan expressed serious concerns with the risks for older and/or disabled worshippers with underlying health conditions that make them much more vulnerable to COVID infection. Some have shown obvious difficulty properly wearing masks during services, and might benefit from having helpers sit by them to assist. Deacons and others could meet those entering the building with masks, and assist worshippers in wearing them properly. Possible involvement will be discussed at the monthly Deacons’ meeting this coming Sunday.
He expects it could take some weeks to achieve a level of voluntary mask wearing that will effectively reduce potentially virus-carrying particles in the sanctuary and other areas to a reasonably safe level. Until then, it may be advisable for some vulnerable individuals to participate in worship through the live stream, while the pastor and deacons reach out to them by phone or visits. Whether to attend worship is a decision that each individual should make in consultation with their own health care providers. Those who may be experiencing diminished mental capacity could need particular attention, possibly including consultation with their families and friends.
St. Andrew has applied for a free air quality evaluation provided by King County Health. Dan will be reporting back to the Task Force on that and the feasibility of HEPA air purifiers, germicidal ultraviolet light (“GUV”), and MERV-13 rated filters for the HVAC system. The goal is to improve air quality to the point where masks are not necessary except for the most vulnerable.
As we’ve done through the pandemic, St. Andrew has followed guidance established by the State of Washington and King County. That guidance has changed and we will follow suit. Beginning Saturday March 12th, masks and distancing will become optional indoors, with each person deciding for themselves if they mask. Food and drinks may again be served in the building.
We ask everyone to continue to use common sense and to be considerate of others. Stay home if you’re sick, practice good hygiene by frequent handwashing or sanitizing, and get tested if you experience Covid symptoms. Respect someone’s personal space if they want to continue distancing, and communicate your own needs so people can support your choices.
The St. Andrew Task Force will continue to monitor conditions and guidance, and communicate any further changes in our practices through this site, weekly newsletters and Sunday morning announcements.
Update from the St. Andrew Outbreak Taskforce
Since the beginning of the pandemic, safety and concern for all have been our paramount concerns. Our church leadership and Outbreak Task Force have monitored and followed guidance from the CDC, the state of Washington, and King Country and updated procedures in accordance with the current state of the pandemic. We continue to do so.
We meet to worship in person weekly. Regardless of vaccination status, we ask all attendees over the age of 2 to wash hands frequently and wear masks indoors. We've provided space for people to practice distancing and we regularly sanitize and clean our facility. We provide streaming of our Sunday morning worship service in real time for those who are not comfortable attending in person, or who have been exposed or are sick.
We will continue to worship and gather together in accordance with King Country requirements. Updated information will be posted here and distributed to attendees on Sunday mornings and through weekly newsletters.
Renewed Emphasis on Masking
Washington State guidelines are changing. With the rise of the Delta variant and upward trending infections, Governor Inslee had announced a return to indoor masking requirements. Masks are mandated inside public buildings beginning Monday, August 23, for vaccinated and unvaccinated people, with the usual exceptions for children under 2 years and certain medical conditions. We are asking everyone attending worship beginning this Sunday, August 22nd to wear a mask. If you forget yours, we always have plenty of extras around, and if you don't see one just ask!
As a reminder, our general practice, established in the beginning of the pandemic, is to use both the CDC recommendations and the King County and Washington State guidelines, whichever is more conservative, as a guide in making decisions for our congregation and for St. Andrew building users.
Additional resources can be found here:
Email sent August 20, 2021
Current CDC guidance
Washington State guidance
News on Mask Restrictions
It has been such a gift to find ourselves back together in person over these past 8 weeks. We are now announcing some additional changes to our safety practices. See below for a summary:
If I’m vaccinated do I still need a mask?
No. On behalf of our Session, the Outbreak Task force has decided it is time to ease mask restrictions.
The task force has been meeting regularly throughout the pandemic and we have factored in all we have learned over these past 18 or so months. We are aware that the coronavirus continues to pose a significant threat to the well-being of our community—both locally and even more so nationally and internationally. And currently the Delta variant presents a particular challenge.
At the same time, following current CDC and Washington State guidance, and having confidence in the high vaccination rates of our worshipping community in particular and in the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing both serious infection and transmission of even the most communicable variants, we believe this is a reasonable move for the St. Andrew community.
So what exactly does this mean?
Simply put, if you are fully vaccinated—that’s two weeks after your last shot—you are free to not wear a mask while you are indoors and outdoors on the church property, including during worship and other activities. You may also have physical contact with others—handshaking or hugging—if they have told you they’re ok with that.
What if I'm not ready to take off my mask?
Some of us will continue to wear masks and want to distance, even if we are fully vaccinated. And we want you to feel absolutely free to do so according to your best judgment. Indeed, we are hoping to create a culture of openness in which masks are always welcome and you are free from being self-conscious should you choose to wear them. Among the lessons we have been learning is that masks can be a great option for reducing transmission of those airborne cold and flu bugs that are common during some seasons of the year. Some among us will be masking up in solidarity with our younger members and with adults who have so far been unable to get vaccinated.
Will Sunday worship still be online?
Yes! From here on we will always provide a livestream option for worship that will also be recorded and linked for viewing. You can find the most current link on the homepage, and past links on our Worship in Absentia page.
What if I’m not feeling well?
We ask that you do not come if you are sick or if you have reason to think you have been exposed to the coronavirus. If you have a temperature or have experienced any COVID-19 symptoms in the last 72 hours, please stay home and join us online.
What if I'm not fully vaccinated?
If you are not fully vaccinated, we are counting on you to continue to wear a mask for your own protection and for the protection of others who are more vulnerable. We will have masks available for people that need them. We will also continue to clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and provide hand sanitizer for those moments when you can’t easily wash hands with soap and water. And we will continue to adapt our practices to strike a reasonable balance to ensure good health and vibrant worship.
As always, please feel every permission to limit your activities to those you personally feel are safe. And continue to seek awareness and attend to the comfort level of those around you. Consider it both a safety and spiritual practice.
Finally, we will continue to ask that when you come for worship you sign in and provide a contact phone number. In the event that we have reports of an infection, this will enable us to reach out and let you know.
As we return to worship this week, we surely have many questions. Whether you are preparing to return this Sunday, or not quite yet ready we want to ensure your questions are answered.
If I’m vaccinated or had COVID-19 do I still need a mask?
The CDC has indicated that if you are fully vaccinated—that’s two weeks after your last shot—it is very unlikely that you are in danger of either contracting a serious case of COVID-19 or passing it on. You’ll find that we will be wearing our masks for the comfort and safety of others in almost all circumstances. In addition, we’ll count on one another to keep to all those other safe practices we’ve learned over these past months.
What will I need?
Bring your mask! If you are not yet fully vaccinated, and are able to wear a mask, we are counting on you to wear it for the safety and well-being of yourself and others. If you’ve forgotten, don’t worry. We’ll have masks available. We’ll also count on you to sit with those who are a part of your bubble. And bring a jacket if it is cool. The windows may be open and we’ll encourage conversations to happen outdoors before and after worship.
Will Sunday worship still be online?
Yes! From here on we will always provide a livestream option for worship that will also be recorded and linked for viewing.
What if I’m not feeling well?
If you have a temperature or have experienced any COVID-19 symptoms in the last 72 hours, please stay home and join us online.
What if things change?
Our practices will always conform to the most conservative of CDC and Washington State guidance. If, for example, King County reverts to any level more restrictive than Phase 3 of the Healthy Washington Roadmap, we will suspend in-person worship and revert to the pre-recorded worship resources to which we have grown accustomed until those restrictions are lifted. Phase 3 is our baseline for in-person worship.
What will our worship look like?
When you come, you’ll be invited into all the elements of worship. The fully vaccinated choir will sing masked. So will we. We will celebrate communion, but it will be adapted according to best health practices. We will limit our contact in the passing of the peace. In all of these cases, please feel every permission to limit your activities to those you personally feel are safe. And if you are one who feels more free to engage, please attend to the comfort of those around you. Consider it both a safety and spiritual practice.
As we make our way into the summer months, the administrative commission (a.k.a. Coronavirus Task Force) appointed by the St. Andrew Session thought you might appreciate an update. We continue to meet via Zoom on a weekly basis, and have found ourselves addressing high level questions, but also spending quite a bit of time in the “weeds” working out the specifics of how and when we can be together. From our perspective, here’s what’s happening around St. Andrew.
We have set a goal to resume in-person worship on Sunday, August 2, 2020. We are very excited about the prospect of being physically together again, even though many will wisely choose to continue to limit their exposure. Stay tuned. This goal does has a number of preconditions that must first be met, among them are these: