For as many times as we have said to ourselves, the pandemic is not over; and despite the ways we continue to make adjustments and sacrifices to reduce the risk of virus transmission, many of us still have the sense that given our vaccination status and the high rates of vaccinations among those we interact with, it is basically over.
Or at least, we can have this sense until it shows up a little closer in.
This was our experience as a staff team last week, as our Director of Finance and Operations, Katie Watkins, and her family all became infected with COVID. Both Katie and her husband are vaccinated (with two different vaccines) and wear masks in all public settings. Their children are both too young to be vaccinated. All four of them have been symptomatic, and we are praying that it will remain mild and that they will recover quickly.
Before their positive test results last Friday, they had each taken multiple tests in the prior few days that were negative. Again, many of us had heard that it was possible to test negative early and then positive after a few days. Still, until we had this experience among our community, we had forgotten how unreliable early testing can be. As a result, Katie, a few other staff members, and a couple of congregants were each in the office unmasked for some time in those days before the positive test. It wasn’t a long time, but it meant that when the positive test came, we notified all of those who had been there, and they, in turn, began their testing and isolation for at least five days post-exposure.
I am immensely grateful that we learned about Katie’s results on Friday rather than on a Monday since that would’ve meant she’d have been present on Sunday, creating an entirely different set of notification requirements. With returning to in-person services, we all must acknowledge that this is a likely possibility at some point. That one among us will test positive on Monday (maybe you find out you were exposed, maybe you start to have symptoms…) after being present on Sunday. This is one major reason we’ve kept up the registrations and check-ins for Sunday. We need to be able to reach out to you if we get the call from someone that they’ve tested positive after being at Sunday service. And, we want you to know that we want to hear from you if you are that person. Know that we will receive your call with compassion and understanding – because it really could be any of us. We know the vaccines are highly effective against major illness, and we also know now that they are less effective against infection itself.
It’s important we acknowledge these risks openly – individually and collectively. We have decided as a congregation that these risks are worth it to have the opportunity to gather in person. But just because we are gathering, we should not have the impression that the risk is gone. If you haven’t looked at our COVID rates lately, check out the Larimer County page, or the COVID Act Now page. Both are sobering.
While these experiences do not lessen our desire or resolve to gather in person, they have inspired a few changes in our safety protocols and our operations.
- Guidance for Foothills attendance post-exposure: we have added language stating that if you have been notified of COVID exposure (regardless of your vaccination status), please refrain from participating in Foothills events or groups for at least five days after the exposure regardless of your test results.
- Masks required indoors at Foothills: we have stepped back the options for indoor mask-wearing, recognizing now how much of an impact any of our choices has on our whole community. We ask everyone to wear a mask while indoors.
- Non-Sunday Building partial closure through October 16: due to staffing shortages from illness and exposure, as well as safety concerns, we have decided to close the Foothills building through October 16, except for Sunday services. Outdoor meetings on the campus are fine; you can use the restroom if you have a key, but please help keep things clean and minimize your impact. We will not have office hours until October 16. We will continue our Sunday services as we have been for the last two weeks and hope to see you there!
You can review all of our safety guidelines here.
Due to the impact on our staff team, we will likely be less responsive than we’d like during the next few weeks. We so appreciate your understanding and your partnership. If you have been waiting to step up to volunteer to help on Sundays, or with small groups, or in other ways in the church, Amy Gage would so love to hear from you and help you find a place! Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. These times take all of us working together to care for each other and for our community.
I know that this sort of letter isn’t the most pleasant and can cause some anxiety. But I also hope that our transparency helps to strengthen trust among us. I also want to underscore that through all of this, I am so grateful to be finding ways to gather again in person. While it is not without risk, what we are creating and discovering together in each gathering is beautiful, sustaining, and sacred. And, importantly, if you’re feeling less sure about the risks, our online presence remains robust and offers us another way to community, and wholeness, and the holy.
Please reach out with your questions or reflections. I cannot always answer every email, but I always read every message and so appreciate hearing from you. (If I’m not getting back to you on something that’s time-sensitive, please don’t hesitate to reach out again or text me!)
Most of all, I am grateful for you and for our community.