The events of 2020 -- namely the COVID-19 pandemic -- devastated communities of all kinds across the U.S. and the world, including religious congregations. Those who regularly attended services suddenly found themselves unable or unwilling to gather with fellow congregants for health and safety reasons. As a new year begins, however, hope is on the horizon. The rapid development of vaccines tied with a deeper understanding of COVID-19 have allowed religious centers of all kinds to gradually reopen, albeit with certain caveats. While every state and municipality has its own laws and guidelines, it’s likely that religious gatherings will grow in size in 2021 and beyond, eventually returning to normal. Whether you attend, participate in, or oversee these services, it’s important to be well prepared to ensure the ongoing safety of everyone.
Let’s discuss some key ways to prepare yourself for larger religious gatherings as we enter this new year.
Keep Track of Local Disease Transmission Trends
Even as we approach the 1-year mark of this pandemic’s rise in the U.S. and begin to distribute vaccinations, COVID-19 will remain a threat for some time to come. By this point, the disease has reached virtually every community to different degrees. Even if your region has seen lower numbers, do your best to maintain awareness of disease transmission so you can make the right call regarding attending services -- COVID-19 and other transmissible diseases can spread quickly in religious gatherings.
Communicate with Your Congregation
Communication is key for navigating your religious gatherings this year, especially as they grow in size. Those in charge of the congregation should keep congregants informed about the latest news regarding COVID-19 and any specific changes regarding local regulations so everyone is on the same page. Congregants should also be encouraged to let others know if they’re feeling unwell, know someone with COVID-19, and/or have tested positive for COVID-19 themselves. Maintaining this level of transparency will keep everyone as safe as possible while attending services.
Protect the Most Vulnerable in Your Congregation
Religious gatherings can vary widely in terms of demographics. It’s important to note that while COVID-19, influenza, and other diseases pose a risk to everyone, they are even more of a threat to certain individuals, such as those over the age of 65 and those with certain conditions (i.e. diabetes, respiratory problems, heart disease, etc.). As such, it’s important for religious communities to exercise additional caution regarding the most vulnerable in the congregation -- services might be offset to reduce occupancy, strategic seating arrangements can be made, and so on.
Encourage and Enforce Mask Wearing
The use of masks has become a contentious issue for some, but experts now agree that the regular use of face coverings in public settings (especially indoors) can greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases. No matter the size of your religious gatherings, make sure all congregants wear a mask when inside and near others -- if possible, provide additional masks to those who forget to bring one.
Arrange Your Space in Accordance with Social Distancing
The larger your religious gathering, the higher the chances of disease transmission. That said, the real point of concern here is density -- when people are packed together in an enclosed space, there is less air circulation and droplets can much more easily spread from one person to another. As your congregations grow in size, then, do your best to keep people (unless they come together) at least six feet apart at all times. You may need to rearrange your space and create visual cues to achieve and enforce this setup, but it’s worth the effort.
Limit the Length of Services
In addition to crowd density, another major factor that determines the spread of COVID-19 is time. Simply put, the longer people are in a room together, the more chances there are for transmissible diseases to spread. If you wish to mitigate risk, then, try to reduce the duration of your services and encourage congregants to part ways immediately afterward.
Increase and Maintain Cleaning and Disinfection Standards
Any venue, commercial, communal, or religious, requires regular cleaning and maintenance to ensure the ongoing health and safety of those inside -- this is especially the case amidst an ongoing pandemic. If possible, hire disinfection services
to prepare your venue for reopening, and continue to utilize these services so high-touch surfaces (i.e. pews, doorknobs, texts, etc.) are regularly wiped down. If your religious venue already has in-house building maintenance services
, ask them about their processes to better grasp how your location can improve its standards. Additionally, try to provide sanitary materials to your congregation, such as hand sanitizers and wipes
, to facilitate and encourage good hygiene standards, and post appropriate signage in key areas (i.e. restrooms and vestibules) to remind people of best practices (covering cough, proper handwashing technique, social distancing, etc.).
Safely Gathering to Worship During Trying Times
Religious communities can be powerful sources of comfort, hope, and healing for those who participate. As such, it can be extra difficult to navigate these trying times if you cannot easily gather with other congregants like you used to. The return to normalcy has been gradual, but it marches on. In order to keep those you care about safe and healthy, take the necessary steps to prepare your place of worship for larger gatherings this year and beyond. The facility management
experts at The Budd Group
are happy to help you make these key preparations.
to read the CDC’s guidelines regarding considerations for large events and gatherings. To learn more about our services and values, give us a call today at 800-221-8158!