COGWA Member Guidelines—U.S. Sabbath Services
Much has changed in the past two months since we began holding in-person services the latter part of May. When we began reopening services, the number of COVID-19 cases was dropping, and it appeared that the end of this threat was in sight.
Now that we are in the middle of July, that is no longer the case. While some states (mostly in the Northeast) have continued to show declines, to date, 35 states are reporting an increase in cases, and in some states the daily increase has more than doubled in less than a month. In some major cities the hospitals are quickly reaching capacity. Because of this reversal of trends, some states are considering a pause to their reopening of businesses, a rollback of their plans to reopen or, in some cases, a complete shutdown once again.
When we began to reopen in May, only 10 states had a face mask requirement. Currently, 47 states have such a mandate. Those states with mandates fall into three categories: 1) 21 have implemented orders that make it mandatory to wear them in public; 2) 19 have parts of their state under orders making wearing of masks mandatory; and 3) seven require masks for employees of businesses that deal with the public. Only three states have no mandates for face coverings at all—Iowa, Montana and South Dakota. But even these three strongly recommend wearing a face covering when you are in a group, especially in a closed room. The fact that all 50 states are in agreement on a health issue, including all national and state health agencies, has caused us to consider what our approach should be for face coverings while at church services.
We have 75 percent of our congregations already wearing face coverings because of state or local requirements. After considerable thought and discussion, the administration of the Church has reached the decision that face coverings (shields or masks) will be required for all our services. There are three reasons for this decision:
- It is our desire to follow the state requirements and recommendations. In some states churches are exempt, but not all. Given the change that has occurred in the past two months, we believe that we should abide by these requirements and recommendations.
- It is our desire to create the safest environment possible in all our congregations. We believe we should err on the side of caution.
- It is our desire to promote unity in all our congregations. Given the fact that most of the United States is still fighting the virus and that cases are increasing, we believe that all our congregations should be united in our approach to stopping the spread of the virus.
As more and more cases are identified, we are seeing more members becoming infected. For the past two weeks, we have been informed of two or three cases each week. So far, all have been mild. In three cases we canceled services for two weeks, per our protocol, to make sure no one else was infected.
Because of these factors, the Church is issuing the following combined statement from the administration and the Ministerial Board of Directors:
Statement/Announcement for All Congregations in the United States
Effective this Sabbath, July 18, 2020, and until further notice, we are asking that everyone over the age of 10 (this is the age set for Texas—please check with state and local authorities for the age requirement in your area) in attendance at one of our services come with a mask, a cloth face covering or a face shield (where accepted by state or local authorities).
We are asking that you wear them coming in to services, while fellowshipping prior to and after services, while exiting the room, and while singing. As long as the seating allows for a minimum of 6 feet separation, there is no need to wear them while seated during the actual service unless required by the facility or governmental authority.
Where local restrictions are more restrictive, we should comply with the local or state mandates.
If you have a medical condition that prevents you from wearing a mask, please consider using a plastic face shield instead (recommended by the CDC if you have such a condition). But if this is not possible because of your condition, you will not be required to wear a face covering. Please inform your pastor if this is your situation.
Wearing a face covering or a face shield does not replace the need to maintain the social distance of 6 feet between you and other members who are not part of your immediate family. We should also, for the time being, refrain from hugging and shaking hands.
If you are sick, we request that you stay at home and not attend services until you are well. If you have symptoms of the COVID-19 virus, then you should be tested to determine if you are infected, and if the test is positive, you should quarantine at home for at least 14 days. You should also notify your pastor as to the last time you attended services prior to the development of symptoms and subsequent positive test.
We are hopeful that, as conditions improve and we get beyond this current pandemic, we will be able to meet in services without face coverings in the very near future. We will continue to monitor the situation and keep our pastors updated as things change.