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COVID-19 Phased In-Person Gathering Plan

Presented by the NCEL Session with Special Thanks to the Response Task Force:
Greg Davick
Dr. Michele Pickett
Laini Huffine
Amy Smith
Pablo Mazariegos
Sadie McElrath
J. Mark Bowers
Emily Sharp
Davy Codington

About the Plan

As a session, we feel deeply the need to worship together in person. Staff and volunteers have done an incredible job of creating our online services each week. And, we extend our gratitude to them. But, we acknowledge that gathering virtually is not nearly the same as gathering in person. As spiritual shepherds, we are also mindful of the emotional, social, and spiritual damage that we are all enduring as we are isolated from one another.

However, we balance those desires with the need to be wise in how we safeguard the health of our congregation, particularly those who are at-risk. To that end, we commissioned the COVID-19 Response Task Force to recommend a plan for resuming in-person gatherings based on (1) medical best practices and the latest research on the coronavirus, (2) guidelines from the CDC or Center for Disease Control, (3) the collected wisdom of our presbytery, MNA, and other important voices, and (4) the latest statistics on the coronavirus from the Hamilton County Health Department.

The plan we have adopted is composed of 5 phases, starting with strict isolation in phase 1 and ending with fully restored in-person gatherings in phase 5. Each phase includes an indicator for when the Session should consider transitioning the church into the next phase. Movement to a previous phase may be necessary for the church as a whole or select groups within the church depending on specific situations.

The following chart is a summary of each phase:
CURRENT PHASE

Phase One

Virtual Gatherings
Corporate Worship
Virtual only
Discipleship (SG, Youth) and Outreach (ESL, VBS):
Mostly Virtual. Because science has shown low-risk for transmission when following social distancing guidelines, we recommend tiny groups of no more than 6 people can meet.
At Risk Populations
Virtual only recommended. At-risk defined here.
Indicators To Move to Phase 2
CURRENT PHASE

Phase Two

Small Groups Can Meet
Corporate Worship
Virtual only
Discipleship (SG, Youth) and Outreach (ESL, VBS):
Groups of 15 or less can gather. Here are requirements for meetings:
  • Attendees must be able to maintain social distancing guidelines.
  • Attendees must take their temperature on arrival.
  • Children over the age of 2 may attend if they can adhere to social distancing guidelines.
  • Leaders must keep a record of who attended and report the attendance to Gustavo Formenti.
  • Attendees must complete a pre-screening health questionnaire before each meeting. 
At Risk Populations
Virtual only recommended.
Indicators to move to phase 3
  • A steady decline in seven-day average of new cases in Hamilton County over a 2-week period after initiation of phase 2
  • Sanitation team is in place.
  • Risk management team is in place.
Indicators to return to phase 1
  • A steady increase in the seven-day average of new cases in Hamilton County over a two week period.
CURRENT PHASE

Phase Three

Reduced-Interaction Worship Gatherings
Corporate Worship
Virtual + In-person worship at limited capacity
Discipleship (SG, Youth) and Outreach (ESL, VBS):
Groups of 30 or less can gather. Same social distancing requirements apply as in phase 2.
At Risk Populations
Virtual only recommended.
Indicators to move to phase 4
  • A steady decline in seven-day average of new cases in Hamilton County over a 2-week period totaling six weeks of steady decline from Phase 1
Indicators to return to an earlier phase
  • A steady increase in the seven-day average new cases in Hamilton County over a two week period.
CURRENT PHASE

Phase Four

High-Safety Worship Gatherings
Corporate Worship
Virtual + In-person worship at 50% capacity.
  • Same social distancing requirements (such as face coverings, pre-registration, temperature checks, pre-screening, etc.) apply as in phase 3.
  • At this increased capacity, the recommended six-foot physical distance is not possible within the sanctuary. Contactless interaction - meaning no hugging, handshaking, fist-bumping, etc. - must continue.
Discipleship (SG, Youth) and Outreach (ESL, VBS):
Groups of 90 or less can gather. Same social distancing requirements apply as in phase 2.
    At Risk Populations
    Virtual only recommended.
    Indicators to move to phase 5
    • A coronavirus vaccine is publicly available
    • Tennessee Health Officials declare "herd immunity"
    Indicators to return to an earlier phase
    • A steady increase in the seven-day average new cases in Hamilton County over a two week period.
    CURRENT PHASE

    Phase Five

    Regular Worship Gatherings.
    Corporate Worship
    Virtual + In-person, no cap on participants
    Discipleship (SG, Youth) and Outreach (ESL, VBS):
    In-person, no cap on participants
    At Risk Populations
    Recommended to return to worship
    Moving forward
    When we reach phase 5, we will need to continually monitor the virus or other health threats to determine if we should revert back to one of the phases above to protect one another.

    Resources

    Can my children come to in-person gatherings?

    Children older than 2, who can adhere to social distancing guidelines, may participate in the gatherings recommended in each phase.

    Social Distancing Guidelines

    COVID-19 spreads from person to person principally through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person talks, sings, coughs, or sneezes. It can spread from someone who is infected, but not showing symptoms. To keep each other safe, do the following.
    • Keep a distance of 6ft from others
    • If meeting with others, meet outside.
    • If meeting with others, keep a record of attendance in the event one of you becomes infected.
    • Wash your hands often or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
    • For those older than 2, cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others. The cloth face cover is meant to protect other people in case you are infected.
    • Monitor your health. Be alert for fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19.

    Who is defined as "at-risk"?

    For this plan, at-risk member households are defined as those including:
    • Children ages 2 and under (due to inability to keep on a face covering)
    • the elderly (65 years old or older)
    • those with diabetes
    • those with moderate to severe asthma
    • those with hypertension, obesity, or cardiovascular disease
    • those with chronic kidney, liver or lung disease
    • those who are immunocompromised
    • those who are undergoing cancer treatment
    • or otherwise anyone who is medically fragile
    To properly care for our at-risk congregants, we are committed to offering virtual services in phases 1-5 and beyond.

    What are tiny groups?

    One of our major concerns during this season is the spiritual, emotional, and social repercussions of isolating for long periods of time. Being alone is not good for us. Indeed, we were made to be in community.

    Health officials have stated that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is low if people strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines. Therefore, we recommend, if you are not a part of an at-risk population, that you consider meeting in "tiny groups" of no more than 6 individuals. Just as you would with a "small group", use this time to encourage one another, to pray for each other, and to edify each other in the faith.

    COVID-19 Administrator

    If you've read everything above, you'll agree with us that keeping up with all of this is a lot. To help us administrate all these guidelines, we are temporarily contracting an administrator who will be the point-person for all of our strategies regarding COVID-19.

    They will oversee the Risk Management team (which will respond to anyone being exposed to or infected with COVID-19) and the Sanitation Team. They will communicate with partner agencies like East Lake Expression Engine and East Lake Montessori to ensure they have created adequate COVID-19 response plans. Once we move to Phase 3, they will oversee the execution of all protocols on Sunday morning.

    Pre-Screening Health Questionnaire

    We understand that answering a questionnaire before every small group or service is onerous. But, as with all of the precautions we are taking, they are meant as a way for us to love and protect one another. The questionnaire is an aid in staying alert for COVID-19 symptoms before meeting with others.

    Prior to an in-person group gathering, answer the following questions and provide the answers to your small group leader. This can be done by phone, text, or email.
    • Have you or anyone in your home had contact within the last fourteen days with any person under investigation for COVID-19, or with anyone with known or suspected COVID-19?
    • In the past 72 hours, have any adults in your home had new symptoms such as a fever over 100.4 F, vomiting, diarrhea, or symptoms of a respiratory infection such as cough, sore throat, shortness of breath?
    • In the past 7 days, have any children in your home had new symptoms such as a fever over 100.4 F, vomiting, diarrhea, or symptoms of a respiratory infection such as cough, sore throat, shortness of breath?
    • Have you or anyone in your home recently lost your sense of taste or smell?

    What should you do if you are exposed to or test positive for COVID-19?

    In addition to contacting your doctor, please contact either our COVID-19 Administrator or an elder to alert them. They will ensure that any remedial action is taken to care for the larger New City East Lake community.

    Further Reading

    The links below were provided to us by the COVID-19 Response Task Force. We're providing them here in case you're interested in reading some of the key materials that informed out collective decision-making. This is not an exhaustive list but reflects a few influential items that we believe could be helpful for the broader congregation.