March 24, 2022
It’s time to cautiously reduce some of the restrictions around in-person worshipping.
All through the pandemic we have had to balance the Provincial and Diocesan regulations about what we are allowed to do.
Now that the Province is lifting requirements about masking, distancing, and capacity limits, and providing proof of vaccination, we need to consider our approach.
As a church, it’s important that we uphold higher standards than many other public spaces, to protect our population, many of whom are older and identify as immunocompromised in some way, and would be at greater risk of severe consequences of Covid. We do not represent the general demographic of Ontario, where the majority may suffer little impact from becoming infected.
Our Diocese remains in “stage yellow”, which means that
- Masks are still required for everyone inside the Church and Hall, except for those who are reading, preaching, or officiating, and when actively eating or drinking
- Each Parish or congregation has to consider whether maintaining proof of vaccination is in the best interests of the parishioners.
To determine this, the Diocese suggested “taking the pulse” of parishioners, and to do this, we asked, in a survey, what you want to do.
The survey told us that the church is really divided on these issues, and divided for a number of reasons. The most pressing of these were people’s concerns for their personal and family safety, contrasted with the desire to “move forward”, and the challenges and inconveniences of having to show proof of vaccination, and wear masks. Approximately 50% of respondents wanted to discontinue vaccination checks. The remaining 50% wanted to continue or were not sure.
Covid and vaccination
There are many misconceptions around masking and vaccination that need to be considered when making a decision.
Science tells us that vaccines are the best possible defense against Covid, but as we all know this does not provide 100% protection. (The Queen, who is triple vaccinated, likely caught Covid from Prince Charles, who is also triple vaccinated!).
The Omicron variant and its descendants have presented new challenges. The vaccine passport requirements were developed during the Delta wave, when we knew that vaccination was highly effective against becoming infected, and also believed that vaccinated people who became infected were less likely to transmit Covid to others.
This is no longer the case. People who are vaccinated, especially those triple vaccinated are still protected against becoming infected, but not to the same extent as before. They are also protected to a significant extent against the most severe outcomes of Covid. However, they can and do catch Covid and can and do transmit it to others. There is much ongoing research about whether the risk of transmission of Covid from a vaccinated infected person is reduced, but we simply do not know yet.
Because of these changes, there is less evidence in the community that excluding the unvaccinated from gatherings actually protects those who are there. It is just as possible to catch Covid from a vaccinated person than those few who have not been vaccinated, so it has become much more difficult to find grounds to continue to exclude the unvaccinated.
At the moment, many restrictions have been relaxed and people will mix more. Ontario, especially Lanark county, has a very high number of people who are vaccinated, so we are in a good position. However, it will take a little while to assess the consequences of opening up. If there is a surge in numbers, and the disease becomes more widespread again, it will increase the risk for all, but especially those who are not vaccinated. Although they are few, they may become more significant when we consider the risk of transmission.
The Pandemic planning Committee met and discussed the survey results and current recommendations at great length.
Over the next few weeks, we intend to gradually lift restrictions on distancing and vaccine checks.
The Diocese still requires us to continue to mask, and we will review this when the Diocese gives us the option to do so.
- Effective 10th April, we plan to discontinue checking vaccine status. This gives us time to assess any changes in Covid due to the Province’s opening up, and review the decision if needed.
- Effective 27th March, the ropes are being removed, except for a designated quarter of the Church which will remain roped off. You are still encouraged to physically distance to your comfort level. Those who wish to continue with strict distancing may sit in the quarter of the church designated for this.
- Masking will continue, and will be reviewed when otherwise advised by the Diocese.
- Live streaming of the Sunday Service on YouTube will continue for anyone who is unable to attend in person.
Specific points from the survey
People assume that the entire church membership is vaccinated. This is not the case. Several members of St James have valid reasons for not vaccinating. Can we justify their continued exclusion?
People are concerned that if they forget their phone or vaccine certification that they will be turned away. This is not the case. If you have shown proof of vaccine in the past and someone has seen this and can vouch for you, you are very welcome.
Proof of vaccination has never been required at the Thursday service
People say the Public Health unit has told us to drop vaccine requirements. Also not the case. The PHU allows us as a church, as well as other businesses, the option to request proof of vaccination, or not.
Despite what some other churches are doing, we are not, by law (PHIPA), allowed to keep a list of people’s vaccine status, or some surrogate for this such as an attendance list, as this is considered medical information. Because we are only human, and the staffing at the door changes week to week, we do not always remember who has shown their vax proof in the past. Some people are returning to church after a long time, and we have some new parishioners. So yes, we do need to ask, at least for a couple more weeks. Sorry.