Updated Gathering Guidance (Delta Variant)

Updated August 20, 2021

This Isn’t What We Hoped For

Grief - Denial - Anger - Depression - Bargaining - Acceptance

The disappointing vaccination rates, breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals, and the alarming contagiousness of the COVID-19 Delta variant (even among those who are vaccinated) call for the re-evaluation of reopening plans for congregations.

We are all feeling a lot of emotions as we grieve the loss of our old normal and the fleeting new normal that we had hoped for when the vaccines became available. There have been additional challenges for our families and for those who have been isolated throughout this pandemic.

We have lived through a traumatic time. We must continue to care for ourselves and one another.

We’re Learning as We Go

We continue to turn to the public health professionals who have been advising us throughout the pandemic.

Recommendations are changing because the virus is changing—sometimes daily. The Delta variant is far more transmissible than the virus that caused us to shut down in March of 2020; we must respond accordingly.

Recommendations are also changing because we have more data about what works and what doesn’t work (or no longer works) to lower the risk of transmission. The protocols we’ve been following for the last several months won’t necessarily serve us well going forward. Guidelines about types of masks to wear, safe distancing, air exchanges per hour, etc. are changing. They are likely to continue to change.

Transmission Rates Are Rising

4 Principles to Guide Decisions on Gathering During the Pademic

In the past month, we’ve been tracking the real time transmission numbers via the COVID Act Now website. Over the past week (as of August 19), the transmission risk in most of the United States has become high, very high, or severe...and in many—if not most—places, it’s rising.

We recommend that you sign up for email alerts for changes in your county’s status from COVIDActNow as well as for the surrounding counties so you can more easily track when your transmission rates are rising or falling. We recommend following the guidance for the worst case in your area, even if your particular county is low or moderate.

It is important for the leadership of each congregation to assess the transmission risk for their local community (vaccination rates and rates of spread by county) and particular risk factors for staff and members of the congregational community.

Then, following our Four Principles to Guide Decisions for UU Gatherings, assess your potential meeting spaces for size, capacity with physical distancing, adequate ventilation, and outdoor meeting spaces; leaders can make faithful and careful policy.

Late August 2021 Recommendations

Upon consulting the public health professionals who have been advising us throughout the pandemic, for now, the UUA strongly recommends:

  1. For all indoor gatherings, regardless of size, vaccination status, or area transmission risk: Require good ventilation, well-fitted masks, physical distancing of at least 6 ft, reduced occupancy, no singing, and no food, nor drinks.
  2. Require well-fitted masks for all large outdoor events, for any outdoor event where unvaccinated children or other vulnerable people are included, and for outdoor gatherings of any size in counties where transmission is Very High or Severe (per the COVID Act Now data).
  3. As children below age 12 cannot yet be vaccinated, hold religious education activities and multi-age programs outdoors. If children are indoors, ensure excellent ventilation, masking, physical distancing, and reduced room occupancy.
  4. In areas where transmission risk is Very High or Severe, (per the COVID Act Now data), suspend all large, in-person (indoor and outdoor) gatherings such as worship, concerts, or fundraisers.
  5. In areas where transmission risk is Low, Medium, or High (per the COVID Act Now data), small and mid-size gatherings, including limited-attendance worship, may be reasonably safe if indoor precautions for masking, ventilation, physical distancing and high vaccination rates are followed.
  6. Create an expectation that vaccinations are required for everyone who is eligible. Work to have the highest vaccination rate possible in your community. We support requiring vaccinations for staff, lay leaders, and anyone spending time with children.

With these updates, it is important for congregations to regularly assess the transmission risk for their local and surrounding areas as determined by trusted health authorities and the particular risk factors for staff and members of the community.

For Congregations in Counties Labeled High Risk

If COVID Act Now considers your county and/or surrounding counties to be at high risk, but not very high or severe, we encourage your leadership to pay close attention to the infection trends and be prepared to adjust your plans as needed.

The three biggest factors to monitor are Daily New Cases, Infection Rate, and Test Positivity. If any of these is moving upward in your community, your area’s risk may soon be considered very high or severe and it may be important to take more restrictive precautions to help prevent further transmission in your area.

You can subscribe to real-time alerts from COVID Act Now by scrolling to the bottom of any page on their website.

You Are Not Alone

We all know the importance of continuing to minister to and provide for the spiritual needs of our communities, maintaining inclusion for all and mitigating risks for our people, and larger communities.

Your regional staff is always available for your leaders to listen to your concerns and help talk through your options. If your head is spinning over all of these changes, please reach out to your regional staff for a conversation.