Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19 — 9/30/2020

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.” 

  1. State of Connecticut v. UUS:E guidelines

   Q:  The state of Connecticut plans to allow indoor religious services for up to 200 people starting October 8.  Why is UUS:E not going along?

   A: Governor Lamont has announced that Connecticut is planning to open up to a Phase 3 level later next week “contingent upon coronavirus metrics remaining low.”  But the risks are many.  On Sunday, the Hartford Courant front page headline stated “After quiet summer, cases climbing”

On May 14, the UUA published guidance about church gatherings.  The Policy Board adopted the June 9 recommendation of the Emergency Preparedness Task Force to hold all meetings outdoors.  Only staff would be allowed access to the offices and inside spaces for routine functions and the holding of Sunday services by Zoom.  Later, on August 13, the task force met, and the Policy Board reviewed a recommendation that for the Holiday Fair, a small number of people could briefly meet inside to support the sale of items purchased online.  Even then, special procedures would be required including enhanced inside air exchange and proper disinfection at the end of each day.

In its guidelines, one of the UUA principles about opening of church facilities is, “an abiding care and concern for the most vulnerable, inside and outside our congregation.”  Another is “affirmation that good science coupled with our UU values must be the basis on which we make decisions.”

These guidelines recommend that “congregations plan for ongoing virtual gathering and operations through May 2021.”  New UUA guidelines will probably be distributed before that date.  On September 24, the Emergency Planning Task Force met and agreed that the building should remain closed to gatherings.

“It’s better to be patient than to be a patient!” 

  1. Evaluating if one should receive any newly authorized vaccine

   Q: Should I take the vaccine when one is approved and available?

   A: The two questions to ask are “is it safe?” and “is it effective?”   It is possible and likely that any immediate safety risks will have been identified in the abbreviated Phase 3 clinical trials.  The risk of any adverse effects later has to be weighed against the benefits from taking the vaccine.  The effectiveness of the vaccine can be learned if the results of the trials are made known.  If the effectiveness reaches 50%, which is the minimum level for authorization, at least half the people being vaccinated will be protected.  This means up to 50% are still at risk of being infected after being vaccinated.  They would remain able to spread the disease to others.  If the trials produce 90% effectiveness, the risk will be far less for contracting or spreading COVID-19.   For those not being vaccinated right away, it is important to consider it will be many months until those who do take the vaccine can receive it.  On the date the announced vaccine has been approved, one cannot assume it is safe to “go back to normal.”   Wearing of masks and keeping social distancing will probably be required for years to come.

  1. New dashboard will track COVID-19 in schools
  2. How many public-school children have been infected by coronavirus-19?

   A: There has been no system to collect data on the prevalence of COVID-19 in K-12 schools in the country.  Recently, the national School Superintendents Association based in Virginia announced the creation of a dashboard that will provide this information.  As of September 23, public, private and charter schools in 47 states providing both in person and on-line education for about 200,000 students have reported.  This data shows that there were 230 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 students, and 490 cases per 100,000 staff members.  These early findings indicate the infection rates among school children and staff may well be below the average community infection rates in their communities.  This data may reflect some unreliability because it is not yet a full representation of all schools. But as new participants participate in the expanding dashboard, the results will be watched with interest.  The current news media reporting makes it difficult to make comparisons between communities or states.  In some jurisdictions, one student testing positive can cause a cohort group of 12 students to quarantine for two weeks, while in another jurisdiction, an entire school may close and shift everyone to remote learning.  This dashboard will begin to produce reliable information that will make future decisions more uniform and effective.

  1. CDC Guidelines for celebrating fall holidays
  2. My large family wants to gather at my aunt’s house for Halloween.. What’s the risk?

   A:  On September 21, the CDC revised its guidance for celebrating Halloween as well as Thanksgiving.   The following guidance is offered:

For Halloween, do not use a costume mask to replace a cloth face covering.  Instead, create a decorated cloth face covering with a Halloween theme.

Consider the following low risk activities:

Carving pumpkins outside with friends and neighbors, holding a virtual costume contest, watching Halloween movies with people you live with, and holding a scavenger hunt at your own home to find hidden treats.

Activities with moderate risk could include organizing a neighborhood trick or treat activity where goodie bags are put outside where pre-identified participants can take one without ringing doorbells, holding a socially distant costume parade, visiting outdoor pumpkin patches, and viewing a Halloween movie outdoors.

Avoid higher risk activities including ringing doorbells for traditional trick-or-treating, holding “trunk-or-treating” where goodies are handed out, attending crowded indoor costume parties, and going to an indoor haunted house.

For Thanksgiving gatherings, consider the following variables:

  • The risk increases with higher COVID-19 community caseload and spread where the gathering is planned, as well as where people will be coming from.
  • The risk is reduced if the event location is outdoors. “Outdoors” implies good ventilation with air currents dispersing any aerosoled virus. A fully enclosed tent in a backyard should not be considered “outdoors.”
  • The longer the duration of the event, the greater the risk.
  • The number of people affects the risk. Larger groups equal greater risk.
  • Prior to coming actions can affect risk. People coming from areas with high community caseloads should consider limiting outside contacts 14 days in advance,
  • Mitigation steps at the event will reduce risk – wearing cloth face coverings, social distancing at least 6 feet apart, washing hands and using a hand sanitizer.

Food preparation should be done by a limited number of people, all wearing masks.  Disposable plates and utensils will help reduce risk.  Avoid buffet style service where utensils are shared by everyone – one person serving individuals would be a lot safer.

  1. Clinical trials starting for a new single dose vaccine.

   Q: Are all the vaccines under development going to require two doses weeks apart?

   A:  Last week, the fourth vaccine to enter phase 3 clinical trials was announced.  This vaccine is being developed by Johnson and Johnson, and will require only one dose.  The testing will include 60,000 participants, twice the number in the other three clinical trials.

Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer of Johnson and Johnson predicted the phase 3 trial may produce enough data to make the decision by the end of the year to seek approval.  He went on to say that this would then cause one billion doses being manufactured in 2021.  Unlike two of the other vaccines under development, this vaccine can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 3 months.  The others that must be kept frozen or stored at ultracold temperatures complicated the logistics of distribution.

Vaccine development is highly competitive.  The financial rewards will be great for success.  This latest Johnson and Johnson entry has yet to announce what the costs would be for receiving one dose if it is approved.  Scientifically, can someone who earlier received a different vaccine be safely vaccinated with this product?  If multiple vaccines are allowed, how will scientists continue to separately evaluate each vaccine when two or more vaccinations are taken?.  Without a national pandemic plan in place, these questions and others will have to be resolved as they appear.