COVID update for churches 23/11/2021

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Here’s an update on where we are in terms of the current UK COVID data.

Cases

UK case numbers have been increasing for the past 13 days (with a small interruption on the 17th November.

This reflects daily increases in English reported cases of between 8-10% towards the back end of last week and 13-18% early this week.

Meanwhile here are the case charts for each of the UK countries.

It seems that the overall pattern is some oscillation of cases with a few weeks of growth followed by a few weeks of decline and so on. On that basis we may expect cases to start to fall again within the next week or so.

The question remains as to what happens after the next cycle. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that my own expectation is that we should be approaching a level of Herd Immunity amongst under 16s, this coupled by booster jabs moving down to the under 40s should start to affect the longer term data so that we might see a persistent fall in cases over time. This doesn’t mean that the fall will be permanent or that cases won’t go up at all during that time.

Admissions

The average number of daily admissions has been falling since the start of November.

This is in line with the fall in cases that we saw over the half-term period and confirms that we were seeing a genuine fall in infections rather than an artificial drop due to testing dropping off. Here’s the percentage of admission to cases which continues to hover at ~2.5.

If hospitalisations continue to follow the case trends then we might expect them to begin to increase again over the next week. Admissions then would be over 1000 by early December.

Deaths

We have also seen a consistent pattern here with reported deaths falling from a peak of 170 per day on the 8th November to 139 now. What is interesting is that whilst the fall may align a little with previous case reductions, you would expect it to be following the trend from about one month previously (assuming a lag in reported deaths). However at this stage in early October cases were still increasing.

This may well be an indication of further decoupling of cases and deaths perhaps a sign of the booster jabs starting to work. I think there are indicators in the mortality ratio that this may be happening too.

Implications

I think the primary take home message for churches is that we have been able to function at a level of normality through the Autumn. Whilst we would of course prefer to see cases reducing further and faster, the feared peaks of 150k -200k cases per day and 7k of admissions per day did not materialise. This should reassure us going through into the Christmas period.

Additionally, it is worth noting that in continental Europe we are currently seeing a fresh wave of cases despite many of those countries having retained social distancing, masking and COVID passport measures. The primary measure for combatting serious illness and death can clearly be seen to be the vaccine at this stage.

As people continue to see that it is possible for us to live with the virus at the stage then confidence should grow further. I personally don’t expect church attendance to change significantly over the next few months. Those who were considering a return to in person attendance have in the main returned and we need to be reconciled to the possibility that there is a proportion of people who are unlikely to return any time soon of their own accord. As I’ve mentioned previously this means that we need to consider pastorally how we engage with those people.

So, at this stage I would continue to encourage churches to move towards normal Sunday gatherings. I don’t think there is a particular need now for different seating layouts. I expect that the amount of mask wearing will reduce further and I would be relaxed about that. I remain of the view that people may prefer a little extra capacity to avoid a feeling of being over-crowded (noting that the advice remains in England to mask up in crowded and poorly ventilated contexts).

I therefore would continue to recommend that rather than seeking to pack people in to Christmas carol services, the wisest thing to do would be to put on additional services to allow people to attend in a safe and comfortable manner. It may even be helpful to run these as ticketed events to demonstrate responsibility and care to the public. Alternatively, some churches may choose to opt for open air events.

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