The COVID Advisory Group last met 12/6/21, and recommended that protocols for New Garden Friends Meeting continue mostly the same through the Holiday season. Therefore, semi-programmed Meeting for Worship (MFW) will be outdoors, including the Christmas Eve Service, but otherwise now by Zoom and Facebook Live at 11 am. Friends will be notified if weather does not permit in-person outdoor worship. Unprogrammed 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 12/12/21 to consider options for semi-programmed Meeting for Worship indoors, in keeping with COVID-safe protocols.  Our Presiding Clerk and Clerk of MM&C will keep the congregation posted on next steps.  Our next meeting of the COVID Medical Advisory Group will be December 28, 2021, 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 omicron variant is now the predominant COVID strain among new cases in the US.  It is significantly more contagious than the delta variant; its comparative severity remains unclear, since hospitalizations and deaths typically lag behind the emergence of new cases.  Many infectious disease experts are now warning that a surge of cases among unvaccinated people may overwhelm hospital systems as soon as January.  Moderna or Pfizer boosters in vaccinated people appear to offer additional protection against serious disease and hospitalization from the new variant, so efforts to promote boosters have been heightened.

The NC Dashboard managed by the NC department of Health shows an increase of case numbers of COVID (up 400%) and hospitalizations (up 50%) this week, compared to just prior to Thanksgiving. The COVID test positive rate was up to 9.3% this week in NC. Statewide, 27% of persons hospitalized with COVID are in ICU beds. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that as of 12/16/21 children represented 23.7% of total cases reported nationwide and continue to account for 2-4% of hospitalizations. CDC reported nationwide as of 12/16/21 that 20% of 5-11 year olds had had their first Covid vaccine The NC total population, fully vaccinated rate, was stable this week at 58%. Unfortunately, the first study for COVID  vaccine in 2-5 year olds did not show a large enough immunity to go forward with the dose they used in the study.

The NC Department of Health is now offering to send free COVID home test kits for those persons who can’t easily access other COVID testing sites. Persons 18 years and older and or parents of children 2-17 can request these kits through The kits are then sent by overnight FedEx.  Abbott’s BinaxNow antigen self test kits are easy to use and available for purchase in some pharmacies.

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 is allowing persons to be maskless in public (leaving it up to individual businesses and individual persons). School districts continue to decide monthly whether to continue mask mandates, and Guilford County has recently decided to keep the mask mandate in their school system.

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 by testing before gathering.

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 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