January 11, 2021
Special edition on COVID guidance
This special edition of From the Field is to let you know that, in consultation with subject matter experts, we are adapting our Diocesan COVID-19 Guidelines to include four different levels based on county COVID-19 case counts and regional hospital capacity.

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Adapting our COVID-19 guidance
Cases of COVID-19 are rising, we have a new strain of the virus in the State of Georgia, and our hospitals are increasingly strained. As we seek to adapt to these dire circumstances, we are guided by epidemiologists and virologists and their scientific knowledge, but it is our faith in Jesus Christ, and our goal to follow Christ faithfully, that grounds our Diocesan response to the pandemic.

We know that as Christians we are called to look not merely to our own interests, but to the interest of others. We make that real through a sacrificial love that takes our crowded hospitals and rising case rates into account and demonstrates to our community how seriously we all need to take this pandemic.

Looking Back
COVID-19 was first believed to be best contained like the flu and so we washed our hands and cleaned surfaces and were soon working from home. We learned more about the role aerosolized particles played in transmission, and so we wore masks and stayed apart. In July, as cases decreased somewhat, our Phase 1 Guidance began and in-person worship returned in many congregations. The requirements made for very different worship and not every church took part and many people stayed home.

Case counts went down and the Diocese eased restrictions ahead of Christmas. Unfortunately, gatherings across the state over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's caused case counts to spike once again.
Rising case counts and ER visits for COVID-19 in Georgia.

Reported hospital capacity in Georgia on January 10, 2021

The Situation in January 2021
Hospitals across the Diocese of Georgia have sometimes hit 100% capacity since Christmas and most are close to full. For example, Region J, which contains the Coastal Health District has 915 beds in use on January 11, or 86.9% of capacity. Similar percentages hold for Albany, Augusta, and across central and south Georgia. 

In July, hospitalizations could see a one-day jump of 26 beds needed or about 2.5% of total hospital capacity. At that rate, any region whose hospitals are currently at 85% capacity could reach 100% capacity in less than one week, or even more quickly if rates of hospitalization were to exceed what we saw over the summer. Crowded hospitals are detrimental to health outcomes for every person who needs a hospital for any reason, regardless of whether that reason is related to COVID-19.

In addition, a new, more easily transmitted strain of the virus is now in Georgia and we have no known experience worshipping with it.

COVID spread in worship
We have not heard many major reports in the news about the spread of COVID-19 through worship services. However, this is partly due to the difficulty of proving that someone contracted the virus in worship and not, for example, at a restaurant. Even though it has not attracted major attention, we have seen many cases of transmission of the virus occurring in congregations that have tried to offer worship as usual.

To date we have been fortunate in the Diocese of Georgia in preventing major outbreaks in our congregations. This updated guidance is offered in response to changing circumstances in our communities. Together we can make it through this pandemic demonstrating our love for our neighbor by not overloading our hospitals and keeping vulnerable persons safe.

Click here for a document that contains this case for the changes.

 Four levels depending on the case counts and hospitalizations
Yellow Level
Fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 people per day in your county and hospitals are at less than 85% capacity
  • 25-50 persons for indoor in-person worship depending on size of space.
  • 75 persons for outdoor in-person worship.
  • Communion in one kind. Parishioners coming by to pick up consecrated host permitted.
  • Some singing permitted.
  • Some food and beverage outdoors.
Orange Level
From 25 to 34.9 cases per 100,000 people per day in your county and hospitals are at less than 85% capacity
  • 25-50 persons for indoor in-person worship depending on size of space.
  • 75 persons for outdoor in-person worship.
  • Communion in one kind. Parishioners coming by to pick up consecrated host permitted.
  • No singing permitted.
  • No food or beverages.
Red Level
From 35 to 59.9 cases per 100,000 people per day in your county and hospitals are at less than 90% capacity
  • No indoor in-person worship.
  • 50 persons for outdoor in-person worship.
  • Communion in one kind. Parishioners coming by to pick up consecrated host permitted.

Dark Red Level
Above 60 cases per 100,000 people per day in your county OR hospitals are at greater than 90% capacity.
  • No in person gatherings. Worship offered online only (livestream, pre-recorded, Zoom, etc.).
  • Livestreamed or pre-recorded worship with a crew of up to 10 persons.
  • Communion in one kind. Parishioners coming by to pick up consecrated host permitted.
  • Singing if soloist or a singers from the same household are the only ones present when recording.

The guidance is based on the case counts in your county as reported online here:
And the hospitalizations in your area of the state as reported online here:
Once your congregation moves to a more restrictive level, dropping to lower restrictions depends on
both the case counts and hospitalizations staying below the thresholds for 14 days.

Program Meetings: Including 12-Step Groups, Food Banks, and Licensed Pre-Schools

Programs vital to community health in pandemic, such as 12-Step Groups and Food Banks, are allowed to continue through all levels. Extra precautions should be put in place for RED and DARK RED levels:
  • 12-Step Groups must sign waivers and limit numbers (for instance, breaking one large group into smaller groups). Whenever possible, groups should meet outside (masks required at all levels).
  • Food Banks hosted in church buildings should limit numbers inside the building, and limit time to 15 minutes or less for each client (masks required at all levels).
All other programs may still meet outdoors at the RED level, while observing the same restrictions as worship at that level, regarding masks, distancing, time limits, etc.

Licensed Preschools should follow State guidelines. Other activities in the building may need to be adjusted in order to accommodate the preschools.
Those programs whose in-person meeting is not vital to community health should not meet in person, but only virtually at the DARK RED level.

Cleaning and Disinfecting Guidelines
The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads most often by respiratory droplets. When someone infected with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, or talks, respiratory droplets that contain the virus go into the air and can be breathed in by someone nearby. Less often, the virus can get into your body if it is on a surface that you touch and you then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus cannot get into the body through your skin.
  • Cleaning removes dirt and most germs and is usually done with soap and water.
  • Disinfecting kills most germs. How well it works depends on the type of chemical used and on using the chemical product only as directed on the label.
Routine cleaning and disinfecting
Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces and objects at least daily. In addition, clean them between worship services. Items to disinfect include:
  • Door knobs and handles
  • Stair rails
  • Pews
  • Handrails
  • Light switches
It is not necessary to always use disinfectants as some hard surfaces are rarely touched, for example, floors or bookcases.

Soft surfaces, such as pew cushions, do not need disinfecting or cleaning after every use of the space. When you do clean these surfaces, use products that are approved by the EPA for use against the virus that causes COVID-19 and that are suitable for porous surfaces.

For more information, please view this resource from the CDC: Cleaning and Disinfection for Households (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cleaning-disinfection.html).

Love one another as I have loved you
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."
- Jesus (in John 13:34)

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