Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington Reopening News

May 2022

UUFH Sunday in-person services at the Fellowship resumed on Sunday, March 13, 2022. We will continue our multiplatform offerings so that those who wish to attend in person, within our guidelines, may do so and those who do not, can enjoy the service via online streaming.

We recommend that you read our Guidelines for Attending In-Person Sunday Services, below, as we have updated them.

For the comfort and safety of our worship leaders, staff, and volunteers, our policy now requires people to be vaccinated, as you are able, to attend our Sunday services and RE program. We will continue to require protective, well-fitting masks* while inside the Fellowship to offer that extra layer of protection to our attendees. Our policy decisions reflect our desire to keep the most vulnerable among us safe and comfortable while in person at our services.

*A lot has been learned about maximizing the use of masks as we have lived through the recent Omicron surge. We know that some masks are more effective than others. Please take a moment to review recommendations made by the CDC regarding your masking choices when attending services in person:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/types-of-masks.html

Guidelines for Attending Sunday Services in Person

  • Attendance will be limited to 75 people to allow for social distancing.
  • For the safety of our worship leaders, staff, and volunteers we are requiring attendees be fully vaccinated, as able.
  • Please do NOT come to the Fellowship if you are experiencing any of the following:
    • Fever
    • Not feeling well
    • Travel to areas of high infection
    • Contact with person known or suspected of being COVID-19 positive.
  • When arriving at the Fellowship for the service, please enter the building through our main entrance only, so our greeters can record your attendance and give directions.
    While in our building, a sturdy, well-fitting mask must be worn over the mouth and nose, except for the mask-optional area outside the social hall, on the Sam Phillips patio, where people can enjoy coffee and conversation.
  • The family room is open, however, physical distancing cannot be guaranteed.
  • Restrooms by the kitchen and lobby are open; please enter one at a time.
  • The service will be about one hour. After the service, please be aware and respectful of observing physical distance between people when conversing after the service.

Our Reopening Task Force is following the current data on the COVID-19 variants. Our plans can change if gathering is deemed unsafe.

People who attend a Sunday service must alert our UUFH office if they test positive for COVID-19 in the 2 weeks following the service to allow contact tracing based on the attendance list.

History of Reopening Decisions for UUFH During the Pandemic

UUFH shut its doors to services and meetings in March 2020. NY was the epicenter of a rapidly spreading coronavirus and there was no plan to reopen our building at that time. Under the leadership of our Board of Trustees lead by Nikki Willard, Jim Monnier, and Karen Mazzotta and Rev. Jude Geiger, everything went virtual.

As the Fellowship year was ending in late Spring of 2020 , onboarding BOT members Gerard Neber, Jason D’Orazio, and Terry Donaldson formed the UUFH Reopening Task Force (RTF). They focused their attentions on CDC, NY State, UUA, and local guidelines. The guidance was clear for many months: no large indoor gatherings were safe and in December of 2020 a Building Use Policy was established stating that only essential personnel would enter the building for necessary purposes.

In October 2020, the RTF created Guidelines for Outdoor Activities including the Memorial / Baby naming services, Grow to Give Garden and our annual Pumpkin Patch fundraiser and a bridging ceremony. The basic guidelines included mask wearing, social distancing, limiting contact time among people, keeping records for contact tracing, and having hand sanitizers on-hand. Members participated in these outdoor Fellowship activities throughout the fall of 2020 and into the spring of 2021.

In November 2020 as COVID-19 warnings became more dire and our staff expressed concerns about interacting with people in the offices, we made the decision to move all that was possible to remote work. Lauren continued to stop by the Fellowship to pick up and sort mail and keep an eye on buildings and grounds. Some appointments for building work or repairs were handled individually.

As we began 2021, the UUA began offering Dual Platform Workshops for UU leaders across the country. Leaders were reminded that we all had experienced a level of trauma over this past year or so and we needed to slow everything down. They pointed out that our population tends to be older, more vulnerable people. We needed to recognize that some members would be ready to get back to in-person meetings while others were in no way ready to come back and many people in between, unsure with many question marks still present. The major themes we took away were safety and inclusivity and the need to find out from our staff and all our members how they felt about in-person activities. We opened that discussion at our first congregational meeting and began developing a survey to be sent out to our members.

Mark Kenny, one of our members, is a professor of microbiology and has been following COVID-19 very carefully. He spoke of the need to reopen when it’s safe using the principles of the Swiss Cheese model. The idea being layers… first layer of cheese has holes… some virus will get through. Second layer covering some of the holes… third layer pretty secure. First layer now being vaccines. Second layer outdoors or social distancing. Third layer masks… etc. This was a helpful model as we began to consider gathering in person.

In April 2021 our board members considered options for in-person gatherings. Outdoor services were considered, but we do not own a PA system and our WIFI was not strong enough to stream the services to those who chose to/ could not attend. We considered our RE children and youth whom we knew were all unvaccinated. We deemed our RE rooms too small for social distancing and expressed concerns for our RE teachers, some of whom fell into vulnerable categories. The main hall was measured for capacity with social distancing; we could seat about 50 members with proper social distancing. Though no singing was permitted… we could stream prerecorded music on our monitor in the main hall like we were doing remotely. We researched purchasing lavalier mics as speakers could not share mics. Harvey Balpole was invited to come in and do a demo to determine that we could livestream from the sound room using the camera at the back of the main hall. We considered our staff who were giving us messages of not being quite ready… family members were not fully vaccinated, and they didn’t want to put them at risk.

In May 2021 the CDC changed some of its policies removing requirements for masks for vaccinated people. This had the effect of giving the impression that there were no reasons not to open for indoor services. As we examined the CDC guidelines, they were not as clear and consistent as one would hope. The no-mask policy was for vaccinated people only. If we chose to allow only vaccinated people, we would have to exclude those who were unable and/ or unwilling to receive the vaccine, going against our policy of inclusivity. The CDC continued to recommend people NOT gather indoors in large groups. Our BOT decided to delay opening until August 2021.

In June 2021 our BOT sent out a survey to our members to determine people’s feelings and thoughts about returning to in-person activities. 93% of responders were vaccinated. Responses indicated most members wanted to be back together in person, however, half of our members wanted restrictions added such as vaccinations, mask-wearing and social distancing.

Our goal was to return to in-person activities with safety and inclusion as priorities. We were reminded that we are a covenantal community with our utmost care being for the most vulnerable among us. And so it was decided that we would not create 2 classes of members in our congregation, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. The safety of unvaccinated members could be maintained when all people entering our building for activities wear masks.