COVID and churches – latest situation

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It’s time to give a little update on the COVID situation in order to help with updates to plans, provision and risk assessment for churches.  First of all the good news: WE are currently seeing a fall in the number of deaths reported each day (measured as within 28 days of diagnosis). 

This can be seen even more clearly if we focus in on the last few months. 

Now, because this is based on mortality within a month of diagnosis, this does mean that this figure gives a lag measure telling us what the situation with COVID was over 1 month ago.  But have a look at this chart.

The fall in the number of deaths per day reflects not only a reduction of cases but a substantial reduction in ratio of deaths to cases.  You are less likely to contract COVID-19 now than you were back last winter and if you do, you are less likely to go to hospital and less likely to die.

Even if you end up in hospital then your prospects look a lot better now. Back at the peak of the pandemic second wave in January 35% of those admitted were dying, now it’s 14%.

We are also continuing to see positive data when we look at hospital admissions.  The ratio of admissions to cases continues to look healthy at 2.1% and we’ve seen a significant fall in the number of admissions though this may be rising a little again.

 You will remember that there were dire warnings of hospital admissions hitting 7k per day by early November. Well, a lot can change in the next month or two but at the moment, projections based on these figures and ratios suggest that admissions will still be between 850 and 1300 going into late October. 

Now here’s the area of concern.  Towards the middle of last week, it looked like the recent increase in cases associated with Autumn weather and the return of Universities for freshers’ weeks had begun to peak and we were seeing a slow down in cases. It looked like we might even start to see a substantial fall in cases if that trajectory continued. However, what we’ve seen over the past couple of days is a sudden spike in cases again which looks to have come against the run of play. This seems to have caught most observers off guard.

The driver has been an increase in English cases with Scottish cases continuing to fall.

So what is causing this?  Well, there are a couple of possibilities here. Indeed, as is often the case, there’s a good likelihood that it is a mixture of all of these. First, whilst university freshers weeks are over, we are also moving into term time proper. There’ll be further mixing in lectures, seminars and libraries and also a lot of students will be taking lateral flow tests.  Additionally, it has been suggested that more people are suffering the symptoms of other winter respiratory illnesses. If that’s so, then this may be prompting them to get tested to be on the safe side and we may be picking up more asymptomatic cases now.  It may be that the lack of a huge Autumn spike has encouraged people to return to the office, socialise more and to relax further in terms of mask wearing and social distancing.  Other factors to consider are the release of the first real big cinema film in a while (Bond) and the possibility that the fuel crisis lead to greater numbers of people lift sharing and using public transport. 

Whether or not this will be a spike that fades quickly, or the beginning of a larger winter wave remains uncertain. So this is something we have to keep an eye on. I personal suspect that a mixture of vaccine efficacy and modification in behaviours when cases go up will put a cap on how high cases can go.  That theory may be about to be tested!

For our purposes though, the question is about how this is going to affect church attendance as it affects people’s confidence in the safety of gathering.  I suspect it will have a little bit of a knock on effect. So, don’t be surprised to see that a few people stay home when there is a spike. If cases continue to rise then you may detect a greater level of wariness about coming out. 

At this stage, I wouldn’t make any major changes to what you are doing in terms of seating arrangements, mask wearing and serving refreshments. I have heard of churches shutting down in person and returning to online only in response to local outbreaks. That is going well beyond the general public advice and response measures in schools and I suspect will have a detrimental effect.  You may wish to tighten up mask wearing and contact tracing if you’ve relaxed significantly in those areas. 

What I would advise is that if you had withdrawn or were about to withdraw online provision then I’d reconsider that.  There are probably benefits to having some form of online provision longer term anyway and certainly my inclination would be to continue to provide this through the winter,

Through all of this we need to keep reminding each other that we do these things to love our neighbours and care for one another. Our COVID response should continue to be motivated by trust in God and love for one another not by fear.