CORONAVIRUS UPDATE - February 2021
Next month it will be a year since most of our congregations began to pivot to online services and other changes in how we do ministry. Many of our congregations are doing some form of in-person ministry, but that has been challenged by the end-of-year holiday season upswing in infection rates.
All of this is happening as two vaccines have been rolled out in December, giving hope of some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Since vaccinations started, one million doses per day has been a target in this country. It seems this would be more than achievable if sufficient amounts of vaccine were available. As of January 30, just under 1.7 million people have been vaccinated in Florida, with less than 25% of those having received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. That latter number will increase rapidly as people receive their second dose at appointments reserved for 3-4 weeks after the first dose. I received dose #1 of the Pfizer vaccine on January 27, and am scheduled for dose #2 on February 23.
But, there are almost 22 million people who are residents of Florida, meaning that less than 10% of the population has been (half) vaccinated in the first six weeks or so of the program. More vaccines are in development, but it is apparent that even at one million doses per day, it will take the better part of a year for everyone to be vaccinated in a country in excess of 330 million people. What this means is the protocols we have been following to minimize the spread of the virus are things we will need to continue to do as we move forward in 2021, even as more people are vaccinated.
Several weeks ago, I asked my son this hypothetical question: If I have been vaccinated, and am exposed to someone who is infectious with the virus, can I still pass the virus along to others even if I am protected from becoming sick myself? His answer was that scientific and medical researchers just do not know the answer to that question yet. I found an article on the NPR web site that discusses this very issue:
Can I spread the virus to others even if I'm fully vaccinated?
This is an important question, but scientists studying the shots' effectiveness don't have an answer yet. And for public health experts, that lack of knowledge means you should act like the answer is yes.
Here's why: Before approving the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the FDA asked the vaccine manufacturers only whether their products protect people from COVID-19 symptoms. They didn't ask if the vaccines stop people who've been vaccinated from nevertheless spreading the virus to others. The emergency authorizations by the FDA that have allowed distribution of the two new vaccines cite only their ability to keep you — the person vaccinated — from becoming severely sick with COVID-19.
In the words of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change recommendations on steps everyone should take to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19."
This means we need to continue what we have been doing over the past year as the vaccines continue to be distributed and more people become resistant to the virus and fewer people exist who might become hosts for the virus to continue to spread. In other words, we need to err on the side of caution on these protocols, to protect not only ourselves but more importantly, protect one another as we continue to fight through this pandemic.
In the movie Groundhog Day, the character Phil goes through a very dark period dealing with everything being the same, hopeless scenario that repeats every day, until he makes the decision to invest his time in helping others. Pandemic fatigue is a very real thing with which we are all dealing. Our pastors and church leaders are under their own version of stress that health care professionals, business owners and their workers, school teachers, administrators, and support staff, and countless others are feeling through these seemingly endless days of pandemic. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be his body and to be more completely communities of faith, hope, love and witness (F-1.0301). How can we be agents of hope in the midst of this pandemic?
That answer starts with taking care of ourselves. Here are some resources linked in an article by the Presbyterian Mission Agency:Produced by Presbyterian Mental Health Ministry. A graphic representation depicting how mental health ministry intersects with structural racism, systemic poverty, and COVID-19.Produced by Presbyterian Mental Health Ministry for Mental Health Month going forward. Experts predict a wave of mental health impacts from COVID-19, and in times of crisis many people turn to faith communities and leaders for support. Practical steps faith leaders can take to prepare themselves and their congregations.Tips on promoting mental and spiritual well-being in the pandemic and coping with emotions of stress, fear, and panic from the Presbyterian Mental Health Network. One-hour program designed to increase participants’ understanding of their own signs of stress and teach in-the-moment tools to engage the relaxation response in body and mind. Two versions (general audiences, faith leaders).In addition to the Building Resilience webinar, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance can offer a live webinar to groups upon request. These webinars can be tailored to the group’s needs, with PDA offering a panel of presenters to respond to issues that may include self-care, changing needs of ministry in this time, and responding in times of stress, trauma and bereavement.Tips for managing anxiety and fear in adults and children with information about Employee Assistance Program counseling sessions for church employees with qualifying medical coverage through the Presbyterian Board of Pensions.
If you need additional help or assistance for yourself or your congregation, please contact me directly.
Executive Presbyter / Stated Clerk