Masks are optional at our gatherings, but please join virtually if you are sick or mask if you are unsure or being cautious.
Why is this our policy? Donna Schminkey, congregational chair and JMU Nursing professor with professional history in epidemiology, offers some rationale for both personal and collective caution, even as we loosen our restrictions:
Easter marks the third week of mask-optional Sunday worship at Shalom since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is very unlikely that we will return to mandatory masking anytime soon. This is because our decisions about opening/closing, restricting attendance/not restricting and masking/not requiring masking have, for the last two years, been driven by data. Unfortunately, our municipalities no longer support public health surveillance of Covid-19 in a manner that provides us with useful data for decision-making around Covid-19. We do not have sufficient resources in our community to collect information about results from in-home testing, testing outside the home is also not being reported as frequently, reimbursement for testing uninsured people is no longer available, and many people with mild or asymptomatic infections are not being tested, thus there are a lot of infections that are going unreported.
Here is what we do know: Cases in the Northeast U.S. are on the rise. Omicron variant BA.2 is approximately sixty times more transmissible than the original Omicron variant. the impact of that: the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) modeling suggests that for every 100 cases in the U.S., only 7 are officially recorded in our surveillance systems. For example, on April 7, 2022 IMHE found that 29000 average daily cases were being reported for the previous week, but estimated the actual average number of people infected in the United States was 390,000 due to underreporting and asymptomatic infection.
Our policies are only as good as the available data. Right now that data is insufficient to inform policy.
Thanks for continuing to care for and support Shalom in this ongoing journey!