Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — December 8, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

421. UUS:E guidelines made to reflect the changing status of Covid safety – #03

         QHow is UUS:E returning safely to normal?

         A: Just days ago, more than 40 people were in the sanctuary enjoying for the first time a Sunday service along with an expanded number of participants.  On a recommendation that we open the attendance for Sunday services to more people, the Policy Board on November 30 approved allowing up to 60 people to attend in the sanctuary.  When that number is reached, up to 20 more are allowed to sit in the Program Room and the lobby.  Once there are 80 people at any service, a sign will be placed on the entry door announcing that the capacity attendance has been reached.  A few restrictions do remain, however.  All present in the church must continue to wear masks except for those speaking or singing from the pulpit or the area around it.  Musicians playing brass and woodwind instruments are also able to remove their masks.  The offering will be in a basket at the back of the sanctuary in place of passing the basket around the seated congregation.  And coffee and snacks continue to be absent after the service.

At that service, Rev. Josh announced that this was a milestone moment, but with a recent increase in the metrics entering into the red, critical range, we may later have to return to the more conservative kinds of services with restrictions we’ve been used to.  However, a surprising number of attendees on December 5 commented after the service that they felt quite comfortable.

422. The immediate future is safe even given the new surge and Omicron variance.

         Q: Why is the church still open with the new Omicron variant now present?

         A:  A great deal of discussion has taken place about this and other factors that affect the safety of the public and of our congregation.  First of all, while we know little about how the Omicron variant will affect public health, at this time there is a very small number of patients with this new variant present in the state.  While studies are underway here and abroad to determine if the Omicron strain is more infectious, virulent (causes more severe illness or deaths), and/or evades natural immunity and vaccines, it will take a much longer time – perhaps weeks or months – to spread to enough people for any outbreak to create a significant and threatening surge.  By then, the specifics of the Omicron infection will be known to guide mitigation strategies.

An upswing of the prevalence (number of cases per 100,000 population) is presently being documented.  In one day last week it jumped from 24.7 into the critical red range with a reading of 31.4.  However, the next day, it dropped back down to 27.3.  Many authorities attribute this increase in Connecticut as resulting from the return of cold weather with more gatherings and activities now indoors.  Others feel this is caused by not being careful following the CDC guidelines of masking, social distancing, and handwashing while gathering for the Thanksgiving holiday.  The new cases are predominantly made up of infections in unvaccinated people.  A recent study in Connecticut showed that 78% of hospitalized patients with Covid-19 in one week were unvaccinated.  For everyone, the lesson to be learned from Thanksgiving is to be careful visiting families during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Our congregation, families, and friends have a very high rate of vaccinations, including booster shots recently taken.  The church is also finishing its enhancements to the ventilation system.  For people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, live-streaming of services will continue into the future.  At Sunday services, the very few (if any) unvaccinated people who may be present have a very large number of people who are protected from getting the disease and won’t be spreading the airborne virus into the room.  What virions there may be will be met with masks and a ventilation system that will remove them quickly.  In a word, those coming to Sunday services are far safer in church than when Christmas shopping or going for groceries – with all those unvaccinated people around them.  (The most recent metric shows that more than 37% of the state’s population remains unvaccinated!).

423. Officials all agree: the Omicron variant should cause concern but not panic

         Q:  The Omicron variant sounds like it is spreading and can be more deadly.  Is this true?

         A:  Much remains unknown about the Omicron variant.  And the unknown can cause fear.  And fear can cause panic.  This fear is threefold: that omicron is more contagious, causes more serious disease, and is able to evade our Covid antibodies. Early work has led to the reassuring conclusion that while it’s possible this virus might have made all three of those evolutionary advances, it’s unlikely.  Evolutionary pressure favors variants that spread faster, which is why the Delta variant took over in the U.S. earlier this year. There is no evolutionary pressure to date making the virus more deadly.

More than a week after it was labeled a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, there is still so much we can’t say for sure about omicron — and won’t be able to for a while yet. The waiting may well cause more harm than the answers when we learn them.  That’s because uncertainty causes anxiety, which makes us stressed out and miserable.  Patience will be rewarded.

424. At-home tools parents can use to reduce anxiety kids have over the pandemic

         Q:  My son has a lot of anxiety about this new variant, Omicron.  What can I do?

         A:  Few have heard of “Social-emotional learning” (SEL) now being taught in many schools.  National Geographic recently electronically published an article about SEL.  This idea began in the 1960s when child psychiatrist James Comer suggested disadvantaged students could do better academically if they felt more valued and secure at school.  By the 1990s, SEL was being taught in hundreds of schools, and in 1995, Daniel Goleman’s bestseller, Emotional Intelligence, made SEL a popular term.  Several of the techniques that can be used at home to reduce pandemic anxiety are:

  • “Share roses and thorns” – At a time set in advance, have regular group meetings. Ask each person to report on something positive that day. Then ask for a “challenge” they faced.  For each “challenge.” Avoid trying to solve the problem, but ask, “How did you handle that?”  “What can we do to fix it if it happens again?”
  • “Think for three” – Give kids three minutes to do nothing and have their own thoughts. Don’t inundate them with what we already know or how others might solve a problem.  Try to understand and support their ideas.
  • “Try a mood meter” – a paper chart of feeling words that kids can use to pick out how they feel at any moment – before a test, after a tough day, or even during a tantrum. A printable mood chart can be found at  This helps kids identify and manage their feelings.
  • “Read aloud” – when reading a story aloud, stop and ask questions such as, “How do you think the character felt when that happened?” “How did he or she manage this conflict?”  “What makes this character really strong?”  this helps kids build a vocabulary for their emotions.
  • “Share your feelings” – Communicate your feelings to open a discussion. Telling kids you were frightened at something that happened to you invites a sharing back of their feelings.

425. Covid-19 is a cyclical disease with different cycles in separate regions

         Q:  Is Covid more like the seasonal flu being a problem mostly in Winter?

         A:  Rachel Gutman is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.  She observes that the experience of last winter and the surge now underway in December 2021 point to Covid-19 being a cyclical, perhaps a seasonal disease.  She states that determining the cause of these cycles can help plan for mitigation steps in advance.   Now we not only have data from nearly eight seasons of the calendar to investigate, but we also know something we didn’t in spring 2020: In all likelihood, we will not eradicate Covid-19. That makes it all the more important that we know how cases might ebb and flow in the years to come.  She cites different research papers that show a variety of factors influencing different infectious diseases.  One recent study has found that surges appear regularly but at different times for broad regions within a country.  For the U.S. as a whole, there have been three surges, but each region in the U.S. has had only one peak season each year repeating a year later.  This pattern may sharpen in the next few years. David Fisman, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, said that the patterning of past pandemics has tended to follow a sort of script: chaos, then seasonality, then less-destructive chaos. When a pandemic first arrives, virtually everyone on Earth is vulnerable, so the pathogen rips through populations like wildfire. Then, as more people develop immunity through vaccination or infection, the fire needs more help to find new fuel, and seasonal influences become more apparent. Finally, once the overwhelming majority of the population is immune, those same influences could become so subdued as to be invisible.  If this proves to be the case, then nature may already be solving the problem of periodic surges preventing the public from being able to live with Covid-19 and its effects as we now accept and live with seasonal influenza.  This could be the way to achieve a future new normal.