CORONAVIRUS UPDATE - November 23, 2020
Over the past month, we have seen a steady Increase in positive infections for COVID-19. Daily reports of new infections have reached levels we have not seen since mid-July. One day this week, the United States added over one million new infections, and passed 250,000 deaths due to the virus. Total cases in the United States are approaching 12 million. As of November 18, the total in Florida was 914,333.
A couple weeks ago, as new cases were beginning to surge, it was reported that the median age of new infections was 30. While this suggests the surge is being driven by younger persons, all ages groups have seen an increase in infections. In Central Florida Presbytery, the median age of infections has been Orange/Orlando 35, Seminole 38, Osceola 39, Okeechobee 39, Volusia 44, Brevard 44, Lake 44, Indian River 45, Highlands 51, Sumter 56.
Now is not the time to let our guard down. This is particularly true as the holidays are upon us. Thanksgiving and Christmas present many opportunities for social interaction, but we need to approach this season as we have been doing throughout the pandemic, by being vigilant in our defense against the virus: social distancing, wearing a mask in public, and frequent handwashing and other cleaning protocols, to name a few.
In CFP congregations, at least 46 congregations have resumed some form of in-person worship. In some cases, there are limits on the number of persons who can attend, and in others, the worship is in Fellowship Hall (larger than the sanctuary) or outside. Most of these congregations are also continuing to stream the services on Facebook Live, Zoom, or other platforms. This is according to the web page we maintain with this information. If you have recently changed your worship strategy, please remember to contact Cheryl Carson so we can keep this up to date.
Since late August, I have preached or attended worship at a number of our congregations, and have attended session meetings in at least eight of our congregations. I have observed social distancing in all of these visits, and the wearing of masks by those attending services or meetings. One area that has concerned me is with the amount6 of singing that is taking place in services, often by individuals or groups without masks.
Presbytery has provided resources about the issue of singing. Singing projects the voice – and, droplets that could carry the virus – out into the area where the service is held. These can be picked up by the air conditioning system and, absent good filters, be spread throughout the meeting space. Contracting the virus is a combination of the infection load (droplets) and the amount of time one is exposed. Recently, I was watching a soccer game where, during a break for a set play the players were standing in the 18-yard box waiting for the restart. It was cold, so viewers could see the players’ breath, which looked like someone turned on a fog machine. Certainly no one is running up and down a pitch while in worship, but it illustrates how far droplets can be projected out into the room – especially if the singers are elevated, such as up on a stage.
The aspects of a worship service are a cooperative decision between the session and pastor, and Presbytery is not in a position where we can direct our congregations as to what to do in these circumstances. All we can do is urge sessions to make informed decisions on these matters. I will note that one congregation where I was guest preacher had a soloist singing without a while eight people were in the sanctuary to produce the service for live streaming. Two days after the service, the soloist tested positive for the virus, which meant he was infectious during the service. I wore a mask except when I was preaching and leading communion, but went for a COVID test after being notified, which was negative. Bottom line: think hard about the advisability of open singing.
2020 continues to be a challenging year on many fronts, not the least the ongoing pandemic. Hope is on the horizon with the success and imminent release of vaccines for COVID-19. Until these are certified, distributed, and administered, we need to stay the course on the protocols that we have been following since March. Better days are coming, but they are not here yet, and the challenge before us has not lessened, but apparently increased over the past month.
As I wrote recently, perhaps we will have to work a little harder this year at being thankful. But let us be thankful – and also prudent and careful – as we celebrate this holiday and the ones to come.
Executive Presbytery / Stated Clerk