Church Guidelines for Green Phase
On Wednesday, May 27, Gov. Tom Wolf offered additional guidance to individuals, businesses and organizations in counties who will be moving into the Green Phase of his Plan for Reopening Pennsylvania. The same day, WPAUMC's Abundant Health Team offered updated guidelines for churches in areas moving into the Green Phase.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi and the Abundant Health Team developed guidelines for churches in the red, yellow and green phases and urged churches to abide by state and Center for Disease Control advisories to mitigate the spread of the deadly virus.
"In our initial recommendations...we recommended waiting until the green phase to resume in-person worship or at least until June 1, 2020 to reassess," said Dr. Jessica Price, who chairs the team. "As June 1 approaches and we know some counties will be moving into the green phase on May 29, 2020, we would like to provide these updated guidelines to churches across the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church:
Download Guidelines in PDF Graphic
- Continue to exercise extreme caution when considering recommencing in-person worship.
- In-person worship should not be resumed until your region is in the green phase.
- Even in green phase, risks remain and many precautions will need to be taken to decrease risk of infection and transmission of COVID-19. It is wise to move slowly, even if this is more slowly than the government’s timeline.
- Gathering size will need to remain limited to maintain social distancing. In the green phase, gatherings of 250 or more are prohibited. Restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues (casinos, theaters, and shopping malls) can open at 50% occupancy. Faith communities have been excluded from these orders but are strongly encouraged by the governor to enforce social distancing measures.
- In green phase, the following measures must be undertaken to minimize infection risk during any in-person gatherings, per the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/faith-based.html):
- Soap, hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol, tissues, and no-touch trash cans must be available
- Cloth face coverings should be worn by all attendees age 2 years and older
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and shared items after each use per CDC guidelines (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html). If multiple services are offered, allow ample time in between for thorough cleaning and disinfection
- Gathering outdoors is preferable
- Ventilation systems should be operating properly and circulation of outdoor air should be increased as much as possible (e.g., opening doors and windows)
- Maintain at least 6 feet between all in attendance, and provide physical guides to ensure distance is maintained. Consider how this can be done in small, highly trafficked spaces like bathrooms and hallways
- Limit sharing of touched objects, such as bulletins, hymnals, Bibles, and offering plates
- Forego hugging and handshakes
- Continue to offer safer alternatives to traditional in-person worship services, such as online worship and outdoor events with necessary social distancing and hygiene measures in place
- Develop a plan to track attendance, identify those who have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19, and notify local health officials and other congregants about potential exposure while maintaining confidentiality
- Encourage older adults and those with chronic medical conditions to remain home and participate virtually
- Post signs to remind all participants of measures in place to prevent infection
- Churches should forego other high-risk activities:
- Sharing communion for the time-being – no safe means or alternative exists at this time for communion in a corporate setting
- Reasons to remain cautious and slow to reopen include:
- Reports of COVID-19 outbreaks in churches that have reopened, even when trying to maintain social distancing and disinfection practices
- Risk of infection increases when people are in close, direct contact (<6 feet and speaking or singing, for example) for prolonged periods of time (> 10 minutes) in an enclosed space. Worship is a much more intimate activity than shopping is, for example, and inherently carries more risk.
- Many in our churches are vulnerable to serious illness, including death (those 65 and older, those with chronic illness).
- Without a vaccine or established immunity from past infections, most people are still susceptible to becoming sick or transmitting COVID-19. Even young, healthy people have become critically ill and have died.
- This is an ever-evolving situation, and it will take weeks to know the impacts of loosening restrictions across the state. Churches must stay up-to-date on the latest guidelines from local health officials and be prepared for the possibility of stricter measures being put back into place in the event of a surge in COVID-19 cases.