The COVID team has been tasked by the Board of Trustees to guide recommendations regarding official church activities, including in-person services and meeting of church-sponsored committees and groups. The COVID team is composed of three members: a medical doctor, a nurse and a social worker. All three of the COVID team have experienced dramatic changes in their work lives as well as loss of clients and patients since the pandemic began. The personal experiences and professional training of the COVID team has shaped our response to the pandemic in our advisory role.
Many members of TOLUUC have been asking when we will resume in-person services. There is, without doubt, a genuine, heartfelt need to meet in person and in the sanctuary. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to “when”. There have been several developments over the past few months that have drastically altered the nature of the pandemic. Below please find a discussion of the public health data that the Board is using in its decision-making process.
Vaccines: Vaccines have been widely available for several months. More and more people in Illinois and nationwide are taking the vaccine. As of 8/27/21, 69% of McHenry County residents have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine; 54% of McHenry County residents have been fully vaccinated (COVID ACT-Now). However, the arrival of the Delta variant has changed the situation dramatically. “Breakthrough” infections have arisen in all areas of the United States. Even vaccinated persons are at risk of contracting the Delta variant. In addition, there is no vaccine available for children under age 12. Moreover, there are individuals for whom the vaccine is not recommended due to medical contraindications. We as Unitarian-Universalists are committed to protect the most vulnerable among us.
Current positivity rate for McHenry County is 7.2% (COVID-Act Now. 8/29/21). The benchmark positivity rate is 8%. Positivity Rate (or Percent Positive) is a useful measure of how much COVID-19 is spreading in a community. Positivity rate tells us the percent of COVID-19 tests that come back as positive out of all the tests that were taken in that time period. Positivity rate does not tell us how many people in the community are, or have been, sick with COVID-19, case rates or case numbers are a better reflection of that. Not everyone in the community gets tested. This means that there are likely more total cases in the community than what is reported. When the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests increases, it can mean that more virus is spreading in the community. If the number of people tested stays the same, but the percent positive increases, there is more virus in the community (Barry-Eaton Michigan Public Health District).
ICU Utilization Rates:
McHenry County has reported having 33 staffed adult ICU beds. 28 are filled by non-COVID patients and 6 are filled by COVID patients. Overall, 34 out of 33 (>100%) are filled. This suggests hospitals cannot absorb a wave of new COVID infections without substantial surge capacity. (COVID Act now 9/6/21).
Number of COVID-19 patients
The number of COVID-19 patients has risen steadily since July. (COVID-19 Act Now, 9/6/21). Here is a link to a chart showing the rising number of cases in McHenry County
Overall Risk Level:
COVID Act Now defines the risk level as “High” for McHenry County (COVID Act now 9/6/21).
Our values as Unitarian Universalists
Unitarian Universalists hold as a key belief that we must protect the marginalized and vulnerable in our church community and the wider community. ”As a community that values inclusion and collective care, we don’t want to create in-person situations that inadvertently exclude those at higher risk, or create situations that force those at higher risk to publicly identify themselves. Our decision-making must center the needs of the most vulnerable” (UUA Guidance on Gathering In-Person When COVID-19 Subsides, Update 5/12/21). In addition, it should be noted that we are also attempting to protect our staff, including Reverend Jenn Gracen and her family, including their newborn baby as well as other staff members. Any use of the Church building at this time poses a risk to our minister and our staff.
Reverend Jason Cook, a Protestant Minister, offers this excellent framing of the issue:
“I realized today that there are primarily two distinct ways to reason
through the process of when/how to re-gather. One starts from the top
down, beginning with the notion that ‘It’s essential we gather in person
at this time.’ (There can be compelling, complex reasons for feeling
that gathering in person at this time is necessary.) From there,
organizations make decisions back down to the ground on how this can be
done as safely as possible, how risk is mitigated, etc.
The other way to reason through the process is to start from the bottom
up with the question, ‘Is it safe and socially responsible to gather at
this time?’ From this point, an answer of yes or no must be determined
and then steps upward toward gathering can be considered, if
What I’m seeing all around me are businesses and schools that seem to be
working from the first model, beginning with the notion of ‘It’s
essential we gather in person.’ They are, in many cases, doing their
best to create safe conditions to meet what is viewed as a necessity.
Beginning with the question, ‘Is it safe and socially responsible to
gather at this time?’ often yields different responses than utilizing
the other model.”
At the present time, the Board believes that based on our UU values and COVID-19 metrics that in-person indoor services should not be resumed in September. The values of equity and inclusion are demonstrated by our Zoom virtual services. Those services allow all of our church friends and members, near and far, to safely participate in services. For church friends who desire an in-person experience, we will continue to offer the “short and sweet” outdoor services while following social distancing and masking regulations.