Dear Clergy,
 
Grace and peace to you as we approach the holiest days of our Christian year, observing our Savior’s death and celebrating his resurrection. This is our second Holy Week and Easter under Covid precautions, but my prayer is that we can celebrate this year with thanksgiving for the signs of hope we are seeing these days.
 
As you know, all of the California counties in our diocese have now entered the “Red Tier” for Covid precautions. (As in the past, I am treating Yuma similarly to neighboring Imperial County.) This is good news, as the move from purple to red tier indicates that our case rates and other indicators are improving. We pray that the improvement will continue as more people are vaccinated, while we are aware that the spread of new variants of the disease may cause spikes in the future. We are paying close attention to the trends, and may need to tighten restrictions again in the future if conditions warrant.
 
Even with the move from purple to red tier, our COVID precautions for worship still apply. Your congregational task force should determine what is right for your congregation, within these limitations:
 
  • The California restrictions still allow outdoor worship with masking and distancing.
 
  • The state guidelines also allow indoor worship with only 25% capacity filled, with a maximum attendance of 100 participants. I have also asked that for indoor worship, all participants wear double masks. Please provide extra masks at the entrance to the church, and provide for maximum ventilation (doors and windows open, fans on, etc.).
 
  • Congregational singing is still not allowed for either indoor or outdoor worship. Soloists or small choral groups may sing while masked, with at least 12 feet of distance from any other participant. 
 
  • Other precautions for communion, not sharing objects like communion plates, hand-washing for the altar party before communion, etc., still apply.

  • In addition, I encourage you to record the names and contact information of participants so they can be easily notified in case of an outbreak.
 
  • Please do continue to provide online worship as an alternative for those who do not yet feel safe attending in person.

Some non-worship restrictions can be loosened at this point, as follows:
 
  •  CDC guidance now allows a small group of people who have all been vaccinated to remove masks when gathered together indoors. Please do NOT start checking vaccination status at the entrance to worship. However, in small group meetings (classes, vestry meetings, and other small groups), if everyone has been masked and the group is in a space that no one else will enter, you may choose to allow the group to remove masks if everyone agrees. Your congregational task force should consider this question before changing the policy. You know your people, and you know whether some unvaccinated people might flout policies based on anti-mask sentiment, which might make relaxing your mask protocol unwise.
 
  • If all employees have been vaccinated and have waited two weeks after their second vaccine for full immunity, church offices may reopen. Employees in private offices may remove masks while their doors are closed. People in public spaces or open offices should keep masks on to protect others who may visit the office. Please do allow some employees to work at home without penalty if they are still concerned about catching the disease, or if they have not been vaccinated.

  • Children’s Sunday school classes and youth group activities may take place outdoors, with masking and distancing. Since most younger people have not been vaccinated, it is important to continue safety precautions for them, especially as in-person schooling resumes, and children who are exposed to risks at different schools come together on Sundays.
 
  • Home and hospital visits may resume if the Eucharistic visitors and the recipients of the visits have been vaccinated.

  • Continued safety precautions should be observed for home and hospital visits if any member of the group is unvaccinated. For instance, communion may be delivered to a home outdoors, prepackaged (for instance, in a plastic bag), with all participants distanced and appropriate prayers shared outdoors.

  • A small group where some participants are unvaccinated may meet outdoors with masking and distancing. For a hospital visit where some participants are unvaccinated, please follow hospital precautions.

  • AA groups and other outside groups that share church facilities may meet indoors with 25% capacity filled, fewer than 100 participants, masking, and distancing. Please allow the room to air for at least 30 minutes before any other group enters the space.
 
I am proud and inspired by the ministry all of you have been doing during this past difficult year. I am full of hope as conditions improve. And above all, I know that Easter will come, we will once again celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us in God’s mission in the days and months to come.

In Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Susan Brown Snook
The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego
2083 Sunset Cliffs Blvd., San Diego, CA 92107