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Date: February 24, 2021

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The work group created by Bishop Sharma D. Lewis to help move back to in-person worship safely has issued its first update to its Technical Assistance Manual (TAM) since December 11. The new update from the Return to In-Person Worship Work Group takes into account new research and best practices and provides new guidance in the following areas. Specific requirements are in the latest TAM found on the conference webpage at www.vaumc.org/return. Churches that update their plans as a result of these changes should resubmit their plans to the District Superintendent.

  • in outdoor settings only, preachers may be unmasked while preaching as long as they are distanced at least 25 feet from the nearest participant. Masks are required at all other times.
  • in outdoor settings only, congregational singing with masks is allowed as long as all other mitigation methods are in place. Singing in every case should be limited in time (e.g. 5 minutes or less, about 2 hymns per service)
  • allowance for indoor partaking of prepackaged communion elements with brief removal of masks (less than 60 seconds)
  • allowance for children’s time in the front during services with mitigation measures in place
  • use of multiple exit doors
  • greeters/Ushers may hand out bulletins provided they wear gloves and use outstretched arms to retain maximum distance
  • offering receptacles may now be passed in the pews with ushers gloved. Ushers are required to wear gloves. Offering receptacles on poles encouraged. Outstretched arms otherwise to retain maximum distance.
  • attendance pads and offering envelopes may now be put in the pews and used across multiple services (Congregants must bring their own writing instruments). Outstretched arms to pass or place attendance sheets at ends of row.
  • congregations may open restrooms during drive-in and outdoor services
  • worship materials do not have to be placed 24 hours ahead of time
  • cleaning of high-touch areas is still encouraged, but extensive deep-cleaning, use of spray sanitizer is no longer required
  • no online RSVP requirements or temperature check at the door requirements
  • non-worship outdoor gatherings have a limitation of 25 or fewer people as of March 1, 2021, reflecting the governor’s recent announcement. Indoor non-worship gatherings are still limited to 10 or fewer. (These do not apply to worship services.)

In releasing this TAM revision, the work group considers the Annual Conference to be at Stage 2.2, with Stage 3 representing the point at which a ‘new normal’ has arrived. The work group will continue to monitor and make modifications as the conference moves to that stage. The group included this statement in the current revision:

COVID-19 remains a serious and deadly threat. At this point, our aim is to limit spread of COVID-19. Current science has shown that a single person with mild or no COVID-19 symptoms may lead to a dramatic outbreak, and most outbreaks come from just a few people—about 80% of spread arises from 10% of infected people. Such spread often occurs in settings of prolonged exposure in crowded poorly ventilated indoor settings, and with activities like singing, shouting, or aerobic exercise.

At this time, the protocols are aimed toward reducing spread by these measures:

Wear masks. We recommend following CDC recommendations, and these include using medical masks (droplet, KN95, KN94, or N95 if available), and especially double masking, a medical mask covered by a cloth mask.

Avoid crowding–maintain physical distance of six feet or more.

Adequate ventilation as recommended by the CDC, through opening doors and windows when possible and safe, and improving ventilation through HVAC settings.

Use outdoor settings more than indoor settings, and large rooms more than small.

Stay at home when possible.

Limit duration of exposure. Even five minutes in an indoor poorly ventilated setting may result in spread.

Avoid singing, shouting, or loud talking.

Omitting two or more measures–like taking off a mask for a prolonged period indoors–means a much higher risk of spreading infection. Therefore, to reduce spread, we aim to use all measures if possible, and omit no more than one measure in any situation.