Dear People of God in the Dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania:
In the last several weeks, COVID-19 rates in our communities have declined dramatically from the record rates we experienced in December and January. Although transmission rates are still considered “high” across our partnership dioceses, it seems as if the worst of the Omicron surge is behind us. I give thanks for this sign of hope even as I grieve both the people who have died from COVID and the people who have died from other causes because they were unable to receive health care when hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID patients.
As COVID rates continue to fluctuate, I want to renew my recommendation, first issued last August, that our congregations follow Centers for Disease Control guidance on masking. That guidance continues to be that vaccinated people should wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial or high COVID transmission and that unvaccinated people over age 2 should wear a mask indoors at all times. As of today, every county in our partnership dioceses is experiencing high levels of transmission, and therefore, for now, I recommend that congregations continue to require masks and social distance indoors for everyone over age 2. And if you are over age 5 and have not yet been fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, I implore you to get the shots recommended by your doctor right away.
As the situation changes, I urge congregational leaders to monitor Centers Disease Control data and make the decisions that are best for your congregation. I know that we have reached a stage in the pandemic in which people have widely varying degrees of comfort with COVID-19 risk. As you consider your congregation’s policies on masks, social distance, and other COVID precautions, I ask that you give special thought to people who are still at risk for serious infection and to young children who still cannot be vaccinated. We are all weary of this pandemic and the ways it continues to disrupt our lives, but even so, God calls us to care for those among us who are most vulnerable. I pray our congregations will continue to be welcoming places for them and all of God’s people as we continue to navigate COVID-19.
If you have questions or would like to discuss your congregation’s continuing COVID response, please talk with Canon Twila Smith or Canon Vanessa Butler. Thank you for your continued faithfulness to our congregations throughout this long pandemic.