An update from the NEAC Re-Entry Team: Healthy ventilation

October 06, 2021

 

I expect there to be a winter wave. However, we had a number of infections pulled forward by this delta late summer wave that has created its own immunity. Five percent of the U.S. has perhaps gotten delta at this point. So [winter] actually might not be so bad [assuming no new variant arises]. But looking forward to 2022, 2023 — once this [coronavirus] is endemic that's where my comparison with flu comes in, where it's looking like a severe flu season every winter.

— Trevor Bedford, NPR Interview, September 28, 2021. Bedford is the Seattle-based researcher who first identified COVID 19.

Siblings in Christ —

Praise God we now know much more than we did in the early days of COVID-19.  
We know that this is an airborne virus. 
We know that some circumstances increase the risk of infection:

  • Being indoors rather than outdoors, particularly where ventilation with outside air is inadequate
  • Activities that increase emission of respiratory fluids: speaking loudly, singing, or exercising
  • Prolonged time of exposure (more than a few minutes)
  • Crowded spaces, particularly if face coverings are inconsistently or improperly worn 

 We know what steps reduce cases.  We have a menu of them to draw from as needed. Unlike a restaurant menu though, these choices can’t be dictated by what appeals to people (what we are comfortable with) but must be guided by tolerable risk level given the actual conditions at the time.
 
So now it’s time to turn our attention to that one risk reduction with highest impact on preventing COVID-19 spread, especially when used with vaccines — air quality. Think of healthy ventilation in two ways: One is Air exchange and the other is Air cleaning

Air exchange is the transfer of air in and out of a space, carrying viral particles out. Experts recommend 5 or more air changes per hour. Each unique building must be assessed for its ventilation level, which can be tracked by CO2 monitors. Solutions range from open windows to exhaust systems. Researchers such as Dr. Joseph Allen point to common sense choices based on emerging science. Here is one tool to help assess the needs of your building. CDC Guidance is available here.
            
Where air exchange is insufficient, air cleaning should be considered.  Again, the needs of any building will depend on its particular design and features. We commend to you this ventilation information gathered by our colleagues in the Greater Northwest Conference UMC. 
 
Attention to both air exchange and air quality can diminish the need for other risk reductions.  

The layout and design of a building, as well as occupancy and type of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, can all impact potential airborne spread of the virus. Although improvements to ventilation and air cleaning cannot on their own eliminate the risk of airborne transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, EPA recommends increasing ventilation with outdoor air and air filtration as important components of a larger strategy that may include physical distancing, wearing cloth face coverings or masks, surface cleaning, handwashing, and other precautions. Find more on Indoor Air and Coronavirus from the EPA
 
For example, a public health official’s drop-by-visit to one church led to advice that opening one well-placed exterior door meant this congregation could sing while masked and socially distanced. Again, this is highly contextual to a specific building! But there is a way forward to reducing the amount of time that buildings need to be closed or risk reductions amplified during outbreaks. Again, public health officials widely believe that the pandemic will become a seasonal disease much like flu. So, we recommend that you make “the menu” a standard resource for planning ministry. Risk-reduction recommendations are available on our website and align with state and federal guidelines. 
 
In this phase of the pandemic, with vaccinations available, we hope and pray that all churches will demonstrate the love of God by showing respect, support, and prayer for each other. The NEAC Re-Entry Team has heard both that we are imposing too many strictures and not enough. We are all living in a complex, perplexing time. To help local churches live into essential Christian principles such as “Love our neighbors” and “Do no harm,” while facing the challenge of COVID 19, the Team provides guidelines that should be taken seriously. These guidelines do not mandate a church’s own decisions in their local and regional context. 
 
We will continue to support your ministry by providing information that can be used in your ministry setting. The team wants you to know:

  • We will continue to update you when we learn things that may be helpful for your ministry and wellbeing.
  • Most church conferences will be conducted via video conference.
  • Conference staff will remain working remotely until notified otherwise by the personnel committee. 

And we ask you to:

  • consider how your choices contribute either to long term solutions or to long term problems,
  • help people understand what’s happening by using risk-reduction language instead of, “it’s safe,” or “I feel safe.”  

In God’s Grace,
 
New England Conference Re-Entry Team
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar
Beth DiCocco
Rev. Jill Colley Robinson
Rev. Taesung Kang
Rev. Rick McKinley
Rev. Dr. Karen Munson, facilitator

Questions for the Re-Entry Team can be submitted using this form