As we continue to navigate the global pandemic and its consequences in our daily lives, we would like to update you on our upcoming summer plans concerning ongoing public health measures. As you have, no doubt, observed for yourself, there are many conflicting and confusing messages about what we should be doing now concerning COVID-19 and how to “just live with it.”
The purpose of the existing public health measures at St Helen’s is to ensure that you have a safe place to worship. These measures have included:
- closing entirely during the worst of the “waves” of COVID-19,
- pre-registering for and confirming your attendance at services for contact tracing purposes,
- requiring those who physically attend services to be fully vaccinated,
- wearing masks inside the church and
- recording (and, now, live streaming) services for those who cannot participate in or are not yet comfortable attending in-person.
We have not had an outbreak amongst our parishioners due to their attendance at services or other activities, demonstrating the value of our approach. When we had the potential of exposure to COVID-19, our preparation allowed us to quickly and easily contact everyone who had been in attendance. And, we were able to communicate the facts clearly, the (consequentially, low) risks to parishioners and straightforward recommendations to help our church family stay healthy.
As the year passes into summer, we hope for a reprieve from COVID-19, and current trends in Ottawa are promising. This approach should allow us to progress safely to the Diocese’s Green Phase of the COVID-19 Mitigation Plan. However, as we have seen before, no city is an island in our connected world; so, rising cases in the United States and elsewhere will continue to provide context for our planning. We follow the rules and guidelines provided by the province, Ottawa Public Health and the Diocese of Ottawa and consider our very local situation. Therefore, I can confidently say that masking when indoors will continue for the foreseeable future. Masking is the least intrusive of any public health measures that we can implement. As Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, says, masks are a fundamental layer of protection against COVID-19.
As the incidence of COVID-19 in the community wanes, we plan to discontinue pre-registration for services. Replacement of pre-registration by the option for parishioners to join an email list is intended to warn participants of an event at St Helen’s in the case where attendees at the event determine they were COVID-19 positive. We will give a couple of weeks’ notice of this when the time is right. We will continue to screen parishioners as they arrive, and then we will phase that out if COVID-19 numbers remain low. When we no longer screen people attending services, we will also stop requiring that all who attend services in person be vaccinated. Instead, based upon best practices we have seen, we will ask that those not vaccinated against COVID-19 use a freely available rapid test to ensure that they are free of the virus before attending an in-person service or activity at St Helen’s.
I have not mentioned any specific dates because the future is unknowable, as we have seen many times with promises about public health measures over the past two years. We will proceed logically and carefully, as we have been, and communicate at services, online, in The Vine and using new tools such as an email distribution list that we will soon have available from the website.
If you have any questions about the response to COVID-19 at St Helen’s, do not hesitate to contact the office to get those questions to your wardens, Jeff McRae and Peter Humphries.