Dear People of God in Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania:
In late May, as COVID-19 cases and deaths declined, I wrote to you with revised guidelines for reopening our church buildings. At that time, I invited congregations to gather outdoors whenever possible and recommended that masks and social distance be required indoors until all children and youth have had the opportunity to be vaccinated. Today I want to reiterate that advice and share some guidance that I hope will help you navigate the current surge of the Delta variant.
The Centers for Disease Control now recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks in public, indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. You can find the rate of transmission in your county on this interactive map, which is updated daily: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view.
As the Delta variant continues spreading across our region, I strongly recommend that congregations located in counties with substantial or high transmission as recorded on the CDC map require everyone to wear masks and observe social distance indoors at worship and all events held in church buildings. Outdoor services and events continue to be the safest way to gather, and I urge your congregation to take advantage of our region’s late summer weather that often affords us the opportunity to gather outside.
Because rates of COVID transmission change frequently, congregational leaders will want to develop a plan for checking the CDC map regularly and using it to make decisions about masking policies for upcoming services and events. As of today, every county in our partnership dioceses is shown as having substantial and high spread.
I am frustrated that we need to return to indoor masking and weary of the pandemic, and I know that many of you are, too. And yet, I continue to believe that as Christians, we must do everything we can to welcome and protect those who remain vulnerable, especially our young children who cannot yet be vaccinated. In this season, that means returning to wearing masks indoors, even as we continue to celebrate our ability to gather in person in the ways we longed to do for so long. It also means getting vaccinated, and I urge those of you who have not yet been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to take the earliest opportunity to do so.
As you navigate these new pandemic guidelines with your congregations, know that my staff and I are also paying close attention to public health guidance to determine how we should proceed with diocesan fall events, including the portion of diocesan convention currently scheduled to take place in person on October 23. We will be in touch with you again in September with an update and more information to assist with your planning.
In the meantime, if you have questions about this new guidance or would like to discuss your congregation’s COVID response, please talk with Canon Twila Smith or Canon Vanessa Butler. Thank you for your continued faithfulness to our congregations in these difficult and unpredictable times.