The COVID Advisory Group last met December 6, and protocols for New Garden Friends Meeting will continue mostly the same through the Holiday season. Specifically, we will continue semi-programmed Meeting for Worship (MFW) outdoors for the Christmas Eve Service but otherwise now by Zoom and Facebook Live, now scheduled at 11 a.m. Friends will be notified if weather does not permit in-person outdoor worship. Un-programmed MFW may take place outdoors or indoors, in accordance with current masking and distancing protocols. Other small group meetings indoors at the Meeting House may take place by reservation (email: [email protected]).

A called Meeting for Business took place on December 12 to consider options for semi-programmed Meeting for Worship indoors, in keeping with COVID-safe protocols. See the message on page 4 from our Presiding Clerk and Clerk of MM&C summarizing that meeting and its outcome. Our next meeting of the COVID Medical Advisory Group will be December 28, so if you have any COVID questions or concerns that you would like addressed please contact Janie Foy, Jennifer Schaal, or Kat Rice prior to that meeting.

The NC Dashboard managed by the NC department of Health shows an increase of case numbers of COVID (up almost 100%) and hospitalizations (up 33%) this week, compared to just prior to Thanksgiving. Nationally there are also increasing cases, particularly where cases have recently been low. The COVID test positive rate was 8.6 % this week in NC. Statewide, 27% of persons hospitalized with COVID are in ICU beds. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that as of December 9, children represented 23.6% of total cases reported nationwide and continue to account for 2-4% of hospitalizations. CDC reported nationwide as of 12/8/21 that 18% of 5-11 year olds had had their first Covid vaccine and 51% of 12-17 year old were fully vaccinated. The NC total population, fully vaccinated rate, was slightly up this week to 58%.

The City of Greensboro continues to mandate masks indoors at city facilities, schools, and on federal transportation regardless of vaccination status, however the Guilford County Board of Commissioners lifted the county wide mask mandate as of four weeks ago (leaving it up to individual businesses and individual persons). School districts continue to decide monthly whether to continue mask mandates.

Vaccination continues to be the best way to protect against COVID infections. Given the new variant, the CDC is now more strongly recommending that all those greater than age16 get a booster. This includes those who completed their vaccine series of Pfizer or Moderna at least 6 months ago or who had the J&J vaccine 2 months or more ago. Those who live in long-term care settings, who have underlying medical conditions (including mental health conditions), who work in high-risk settings, and who live in high-risk settings are noted to be at much higher risk for complications from COVID. Vaccines are continuing to be shown effective in decreasing illness and hospitalization in persons who are getting breakthrough cases of COVID after vaccination. Masking continues to be a good option to increase safety in medium or large groups outdoors, and indoors in public settings and in any size group setting that includes (or might include) unvaccinated or high-risk people. A recently reported meta analysis (using results from multiple studies, in this case about 30 different studies ) showed a risk reduction of COVID transmission of 53% using masking alone. Given the continuation of spread of COVID in our county, and now with the holidays driving more interactions in our communities, be sure to be tested if you have had a significant exposure or develop COVID symptoms. Those with conditions weakening their immune systems are encouraged not to relax their vigilance in avoiding infections, even if vaccinated. See our companion article on the front page of the newsletter about reducing risk of COVID transmission in your family’s holiday get-togethers.

Vaccination options for obtaining an initial vaccine or for boosters remain much the same as in the last few months. They are still available through the ConeHealth and Healthy Guilford websites. Those sites are requesting that appointments be made, but a few walk-in appointments are available at community vaccination clinics (including a few on Saturdays and Sundays at the Greensboro Coliseum), in home for those who are unable to attend a vaccination site, in pharmacies, and in some doctors’ offices. You must provide your previous vaccination dates to receive a booster. Vaccinations are proceeding now for children ages 5-11 and are being given at various community clinics, pharmacies, and at some pediatrician offices. Don’t forget to also obtain your flu shot!

NGFM COVID Medical Advisory Group