FPC COVID Guidelines and Protocols

At this time, FPC’s buildings are open to approved people and groups. Depending on the progress of the pandemic. FPC has assembled a COVID Planning Task Force, which has developed protocols and guidelines for holding other types of FPC-related events. Please continue reading below for more details.

Updated: March 23, 2022


March 2022 Update

 

Your Board met Tuesday night to review the latest data on COVID cases in our area.  The following decisions were made related to our COVID protocols for indoor gatherings.

 

Indoor up to 20 People

 If the full group is in agreement, masks are optional and eating is OK.
Air filters should still be used.

However, please note we are a covenantal church. What this means for COVID is that we always respect each other’s space. If someone in your group needs to have the group be more restrictive, please respect that need and act accordingly.

 

If you are part of a group, please work with your group members to determine their comfort levels and to create an environment in which even the more vulnerable and/or more cautious can gradually be empowered to greater participation. Some members of a group may be much more comfortable with the entire group continuing to mask, not eating, maintaining social distancing, running air filters, etc.  In this case, we encourage recognizing the value of inclusion and  continue practices for everyone for a while rather than moving forward more quickly for a subset of members and leaving others feeling unsafe, uncomfortable, and left out.

 

Indoor greater than 20 people

In the sanctuary individual distanced speakers at the pulpit and in front of the sanctuary may be unmasked.
For large events, a specific space may be designated for eating/drinking.  Alternative spaces with masking still required should be provided for the event. 
Social distancing is not required, but in the sanctuary and spaces with fixed seating, some areas with social distancing will be provided.

Note:   As we relax restrictions around masking and distancing, please keep in mind the value of informed consent.  For example, if you want to hug a friend, please ask them first if they are comfortable with that.

 

Also, we are now traveling more to see family, friends or just to get away.  Yeah!  However, when you return to church services, please do a rapid home COVID test before coming to church.  It will make you feel relieved as well as others.  

 

Your Board will be monitoring the COVID situation and will keep you posted as the situation warrants changes to our protocols in line with our values.  This has been a long and difficult time.  Your Board strives to ensure that FPC remains a place where all can find sanctuary and support. 

 

Yours in faith and community, 

 

Sharon Brownfield, Board President and Rev. Cindy Landrum, minister

Introduction

 

To our members and friends:

The health and safety of the members and friends of the First Parish Church of Stow and Acton (FPC) are of the highest priority when determining whether and how to have physically close events either on the campus or off-site during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is becoming clearer that the major source of contagion is through tiny droplets known as aerosols that we expel every time we breathe, and even more so when we talk and even worse when we sing, blow noses, or sneeze. These aerosols float in the air and can last for several hours, blown about by the air circulation paths. The potential for contagion increases when large groups gather - even if masked, and even more so when groups gather indoors, and yet even more so when indoor gatherings are longer than 15 minutes.

Many standard worship service practices are especially dangerous, particularly indoors. They include greeting our neighbor, talking loudly and continuously or with projection (such as preaching), sharing a microphone at Joys and Sorrows, and, particularly, singing. Singing is, very sadly, a “superspreader” activity. All of these make worship a very dangerous activity to do indoors.

In addition, we are a church, a faith community. Because of our population, which has a relatively high proportion of at-risk people compared with the rest of the population, and because of our level of concern for each other, our assessment of risk needs to be more conservative than the general population.

While our doors were closed during our regular church year through June 12, 2021, FPC’s buildings are now open on a limited basis. We hope to resume in-person services depending on the status of the pandemic.

We recognize that for various reasons, people may need to congregate indoors at FPC. Further, we recognize that some activities can occur outdoors on the FPC campus. Finally, we acknowledge the desire for people to see each other at FPC-related events off campus. Indeed, we can learn from experiences in the general population where well-managed events can occur with relatively low attendant risk (for example, theatre activities in the Acton-Boxborough schools). Such events can provide a relatively safe outlet for those who wish to gather together, while acknowledging that no such gatherings can be deemed to be absolutely safe. To meet these needs, FPC has assembled a COVID Planning Task Force, which has developed protocols and guidelines for different types of FPC-related events. The Task Force is continually monitoring the arc of the pandemic in Massachusetts to inform us as to what protocols are suitable to meet the needs of our members for both safety and community.

Update as of December 23, 2021: FPC has purchased and installed many HEPA filters for the main gathering rooms at FPC. These allow us to congregate indoors with relative safety, even if the Massachusetts COVID cases and hospitalizations are higher than they were in the past. This is because not only do we have a good building air purification system now in place but also close to 100% of the members and friends who attend in-person services and meetings are fully vaccinated.

If you haven’t had a chance to attend one of the FPC presentations on how we’re returning to in-person services and meetings, please check out the following video of the presentation "FPC COVID Presentation 11-17-2021". If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact Katy Weeks, Leah Abraham, or Jenni Edgerton. Our email addresses are in Breeze, the FPC directory of members and friends.  Also, covid-response@fpc-stow-acton.org will go to all three.

Please see the information below regarding our current practices. We will update this as we learn more information about the progress of the pandemic. 

Please also note: We are a covenantal church. What this means for COVID is that we always respect each other’s space. If someone in your group needs to have the group be more restrictive, please respect that need and act accordingly. If you want to engage in an activity that is less restrictive than what is shown below, please ask the person if it’s OK first. For example, if you are outside and want to hug a friend who is grieving, please ask them first if they want a hug.

Chart of criteria and allowed activities at FPC during COVID Pandemic

Criteria (using 7-day average)

RED GATE

ORANGE GATE

YELLOW GATE

GREEN GATE

New Active Cases in Mass.

> 2000

751 - 2000

101 - 750

Up to 100

Hospitalizations

> 1100

551 - 1100

201 -  550

Up to 200

Deaths per 100,000  

> 20

12 - 20

6 - 11

Up to 5

Positivity rate (use if >20K tests/day) 

10%

N/A

N/A

N/A

Activity

RED GATE

ORANGE GATE

YELLOW GATE

GREEN GATE

Indoor up to 20

Case by case, needs approval

Masks required

  •  If full group is in agreement, masks are optional and eating is OK. 
  • Air filters should still be used.

No restrictions.

Indoor > 20

Not allowed

  • Masks required, 3-ft distance

  • Minister unmasked*

  • 1-4 musicians, masked

  • Use HEPA filters, air out room

  • Vaccinated choir in FH

  • No eating/drinking

  • In the sanctuary all speakers at the pulpit and in front of the sanctuary may be unmasked.
  • For large events, a specific space may be designated for eating/drinking.  Alternative spaces with masking  should be provided for the event. 
  • A portion of the sanctuary will continue to be marked off for 3 feet distancing.
  • Vaccinated choir and congregation in Sanctuary, 3-ft distancing if singing

  • Use HEPA filters, air out room

No restrictions.

Outdoor up to 20

Masks required

Masks required

No restrictions.

No restrictions.

Outdoor > 20

masked, 3 feet distance

Masks required.

Masks required for not fully vaccinated

No restrictions.

  1. New Active cases. With >6 million in Massachusetts, 60 cases = 1 in 100 chance of an infected person in a crowd of 1000. This criterion is more complex than what we have published in the past because people are becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus even though they are fully vaccinated. The difference is that the impact of the infection is much less severe for those who have been vaccinated than for those who are not vaccinated. Here’s a chart showing the impact of vaccinations based on a 12/23/2021 article from the New York Times. And in addition, we strongly recommend that folks get the booster shot when you are able to, as this seems to help minimize reactions to the Omicron variant.
  2. Hospitalizations – There are 11,000 beds in MA suitable for Covid-19.  Hospitals begin to experience “stress” at 20% or 2200 beds.
  3. Death numbers for comparison: 
    • From automobile accidents: about 1 per day.  
    • During the flu season: about 4 per day.  
    • All accidents: about 10 per day.  
  4. Percent positivity - With sufficient testing (for example, over 20,000 tests per day in Massachusetts), a large spike in percent positivity would be a first indicator of a problem. 
  5. All of these parameters must be met before moving to a less restrictive GATE.

General Notes

The State’s requirements will govern if they are more restrictive.

Any indoor activity requires good ventilation. We recommend a flow of fresh outdoor air entering near the Sanctuary pulpit and “stale” air exiting back and top of the Sanctuary. For the Fellowship Hall, we recommend opening one or two windows facing the driveway a couple of inches and turning on the fan in the kitchen during the activity. Wait about 10 – 15 minutes after the activity is completed and then shut the windows and turn off the fan.


On-site and Off-site Events

If you would like to plan to use an area inside FPC’s buildings or on FPC grounds (or some combination), please use the following process.

  1. Review the Protocols and documents, found in the Documents and Links section below, relative to your event. 
  2. Review all the videos showing various safety protocols.
  3. If you would like to consider a gathering that does not meet our current protocols, then at least 10 days before the event, make a request to the FPC COVID Planning Task Force at covid-response@fpc-stow-acton.org. Your request must include all the information required by the applicable Protocols depending on whether the event is outdoors or inside the buildings.
  4. Each participant must also review the appropriate Protocol prior to the event.

Organizers must ensure that the rooms are appropriately prepared with filters on and set to the required fan setting, the UV (ultraviolet) switched on for each filter, and at least one window open at least a couple of inches. Organizers must also ensure that the filters are turned off after use, and the windows closed, especially in cold weather.

Prior to each time a participant attends an in-building event, they must sign a Contact Tracing Form upon entering the building. There are two locations for these forms. One is on a table just outside the entry to the Fellowship Hall. The other is on a table just to the right of the entry to the Vestry.


Documents and Links

A summary of documents and links are shown below.


Instructional Videos

Hand Washing
Social Distancing Bathrooms Wearing a Mask

If you have any comments or questions regarding these guidelines, please contact Katy Weeks via email at covid-response@fpc-stow-acton.org.