Weeks into the massive surge in COVID cases, Grace Episcopal Alexandria, the clergy perjury parish, has finally closed to indoor worship. As with most things that Grace does, the parish has managed to screw up both the timing and the implementation.
In terms of timing, the parish has been ignoring diocesan guidelines for weeks. That includes the diocesan prohibition on indoor receptions when the area is at a high level of COVID transmission; Grace has been holding them anyway in the Merrow Hall auditorium.
Moreover, the National Cathedral and numerous other churches closed prior to Christmas in an effort to slow down the spread. But Grace, true to narcissistic form, just had to have its Christmas services, despite the risk. (To their credit, parishioners, many of whom are elderly, generally stayed home.)
Fortunately, Grace finally has pulled the plug. But in doing so, it still misses the mark.
Firstly, outdoor worship is not a panacea. It indeed is much lower risk, but the best rule of thumb is this: If someone were smoking, and you are close enough that you would smell the smoke, you are close enough to be infected by Omicron.
Thus, worship in the amphitheater is inherently risky. Definitely better than being indoors, but simply not worth the risk, especially given the age of most parishioners.
Second, it is a mistake to allow office volunteers in. To my knowledge, every one of the volunteers is 70 or above. Thus, they should be encouraged to stay home, regardless of vaccination status. In cases of things like Grace Notes, this is when you loan a laptop to volunteers if needed and let them work from home.
Third, masking produces a false sense of security. Indeed, the cloth masks worn by many parishioners, and clergy too, are little more than fashion accessories when it comes to Omicron. Yes, some can be helpful, but far better to simply buy a box of N95 masks and hand them out in the parking lot to food pantry volunteers, clergy, and other essential workers.
Fourth, Anne’s thinking on Omicron may not be correct. While Omicron indeed is the dominant strain, Delta is alive and well and fueling the surge in many areas. Moreover, there is a Delta plus variant that is beginning to emerge, so it is a given that other, more aggressive strains are in our future. So, I get where she is coming from, but it’s important not to think that everything is sunshine and Chardonnay once omicron fizzles. And keep in mind that at some point Delta, Omicron and the other variants can and will exchange genetic material. The outcome may well be something far more aggressive, and far deadlier, than anything we have seen to date.
Grace would be well-advised to go entirely virtual, work from home whenever possible, and provide free N95 masks to those in need. Indeed, I would be happy to donate the needed masks.