COVID-19 February Update

    02.19.21 | by Troy Howell


    First United Methodist Church, Hershey, Pa.  /  February 19, 2021

    How we yearn to be able to gather together again …  

    This is a yearning of so many hearts and so many groups of folk connected to First United Methodist Church, Hershey.  It grows more palpable each time we move through another COVID19 infection spike, and each time we see decreases in community infection spread.

     Currently, we are in one of those “yearning spikes” as the community infection numbers have trended downward.  It remains important for us to continue on guard for health and wholeness, while also participating in the deliverance that God is seeking to give us through greater vaccine availability, the promise of springtime weather (sooner, hopefully!), and through our continuing sacrificial care for one another through masking, social distancing, and limited gatherings – especially indoors.

     In a recent set of guidelines to congregations in The Susquehanna Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, Bishop Jeremiah Park and the Cabinet shared the following:  “churches may consider offering in-person worship when the rate of positive tests for COVID in their county has a seven-day rolling average of less than 10 percent over seven consecutive days.  Combined with excellent air exchange, mask-wearing, social distancing, and vaccination, observing this threshold will increase the likelihood that a church can safely offer in-person worship.”  Dauphin County’s community infection number is 10.8% over the last 7 days, though the number of confirmed cases over the last 7 days is up slightly.  While there has been significant improvement in recent weeks, we still are in a challenging time.

     In speaking with Dr. Wallace Greene of our Hershey First UMC COVID advisory team and Director of Diagnostic Virology, PSU/Hershey, I share with you the following as part of a “360-degree” awareness specific to our context and facility here:

    • As noted, it is essential to fall below the 10% threshold for 7 days.
    • The potential presence of COVID19 variants in our area – with greater risk they bring of contagion/transmission and severity of illness – is concerning;
    • Our facility/building (specifically the Social Hall and the Sanctuary) are especially challenging given the steam heat system that dries the air, and the limited-to-non-existent air exchange limitations. (Some classrooms can have air exchange if all windows are open.)
    • Physical/social distancing in our spaces greatly limit numbers of persons gathered.
    • A new spike in community infection is anticipated at the end of March into April.

     Hopeful observations from Dr. Greene, include:

    • “We’re halfway there … halfway through this if we can just hang on a little longer.”
    • “With warmer weather coming and the vaccine increasingly available, we’re going to get there.”

     Accordingly, with thanksgiving to God for the deliverance coming our way, and for the sacrificial spirit of care and understanding that you have evidenced for one another, we continue the present course.  Hopefully in the coming weeks we can turn our attention to outdoor gatherings in warming weather.  As our area’s community infection threshold is met (below 10% for 7 days), re-evaluation will continue.  In the interim, let us praise God for the miracles of modern medicine and science, for those on the front lines of care and provision, and for the ways we continue connected – including virtual worship technology – as the Body of Christ. 

     Respectfully and In Prayer for God’s Delivering Embrace Through These Days …

    Pastor Troy Howell