The news on January 5, 2022, that Worcester has hit an all-time high in reported cases of COVID-19 is startling. More so for UUCW is the reality that every day since Christmas Eve, we have had reports of families in our community that have members that have either tested positive for COVID or who have been informed of exposure to the virus. None of the exposure was or is linked to gatherings at the church. While not new, this is a novel development for us as a religious community. We have had reported cases and a few hospitalizations since the onset of the pandemic in early March 2020. And, tragically two people associated with the congregation died early on in this public health emergency. Both contracted the virus in long-term care facilities in our region.
The Staff and Health & Safety Team at UUCW has been steadfast in their mission to maintain as safe an environment as is possible without hampering the ongoing ministries and mission of the congregation. Given the current developments in our region, the H&S Team met this week to discuss ongoing safety protocol and has recommended unanimously that UUCW move to an online-only format for Sunday Morning Worship and Religious Exploration Programs held in our facility through the month of January.
This decision was not taken lightly. No one relishes the idea of returning to a digital-only format for worship. The H&S Team and Staff are framing this not as a return but a pause to our normal operating methods in order to protect the health and wellbeing of those in our community who have been diagnosed or exposed to COVID-19. This act of solidarity is a visible sign of our mission to “inspire people to take on the challenges of a changing world.”
At this time we have not decided to close the building to meetings. We ask that those small groups gathering in the building continue to mask, arrange their gathering to maximize social distancing between participants, and disinfect those spaces they occupy before leaving the premises. Should any group using the facility be notified that a group member has been diagnosed with COVID-19, please report this to the church immediately so extra disinfectant efforts can be done. UUCW also has the capacity to provide methods for groups to gather online if such technology is desired. To inquire about access to online platforms, please email or .
Local and national authorities are strongly advising that people wear N95 masks instead of cloth or other types at this moment in the pandemic. There is substantial evidence that non-N95 masks are a much less effective barrier to the spread of the dominant strain of disease at this moment. Staff is looking at options to purchase N95 masks to have on hand for those who need them. At present, the City does not have home test kits to distribute. We are also inquiring about receiving a supply of these once they are again available to have on hand for food pantry clients and the congregation. Please be patient as we strive to make this happen.
If there is any positive news to be highlighted during this difficult time it is that the numbers as reported suggest that the current viral surge will peek in the next 14-21 days. It is our sincere hope that this trend will allow us to return to in-person gatherings on Sunday mornings next month. The H&S Team, Staff, and church leaders continue to monitor the progress of the pandemic and will meet again the last week of January. Decisions about the coming month(s) will be determined at that time and communicated directly to the congregation and our community partners.
If you are a member of your family test positive for COVID-19 or are in quarantine because of possible exposure, please let us know so that we can respond pastorally and provide whatever resources are necessary for our health and safety. Email or .
We know that this is not the way any of us would choose to enter the new year. However, we are confident that we have the capacity to weather this part of the storm and that we will return to in-person Sunday morning gatherings in the near future.
Blessings to all of you.
Rev. Aaron Payson and the UUCW Health & Safety Team