At Monthly Meeting on 8/21, Janie Foy presented a report from New Garden’s COVID medical advisors (below). Friends in attendance weighed COVID risks against the need for our community to rebuild social and spiritual connections. They agreed to the action steps reported in the NGFM newsletter last week.
The COVID medical advisory group will be meeting on Tuesday, 8/30, at 1:00 to answer questions posed by MM about relaxation of COVID guidelines. Those with questions for the group please contact Kat Rice.

Pandemic update:
Since the onset of the COVID crisis 1/1/20 or so, globally there have been 592 million cases, resulting in 6.4 million deaths (both numbers likely an undercount). In the US, this has been the deadliest epidemic in US history, causing upwards of 1 million deaths. COVID-19 has now been deemed the most contagious virus ever discovered (displacing the measles virus from that title). The current predominant variant is the most transmissible variant yet, the so-called BA 5. Nationally, as of 8/17/22, about 98,000 new cases of COVID are being recorded per day and about 398 deaths/day are attributed to COVID illness. Unlike flu viruses, which primarily infect the respiratory system, COVID-19 can have long-lasting effects on the heart, brain, and other systems.
More than 90% of US residents now have some level of immunologic protection from severe COVID disease, either through vaccination or prior infection; however, this does not prevent them from becoming infected or reinfected. People without any symptoms or with minimal symptoms can and do transmit the virus to others. Singing indoors unmasked and eating indoors in restaurants have been associated with high levels of transmission of the virus.

CDC recommendations:
CDC guidance changed last week: specifically, the CDC has lessened the attention previously placed on social distancing and tied masking recommendations to a community level indicator of the strain the community has experienced on account of COVID-19 during the previous 7 days (low, medium, or high). This indicator incorporates hospitalizations and healthcare system capacity, as well as transmission rates (which have become less reliable since home testing has become common). A level of “low” does not indicate that the virus is not circulating or that individuals do not need to take preventive measures to protect themselves, especially if they are at high risk for serious disease. Translated into practical terms: if you need health care services when the community level indicator of strain is “low,” then the waiting time to be seen in the ER or to be admitted to a hospital would be less than when the system is at a “high” level of strain. The CDC did not provide specific guidance for many activities that happen at our meeting house.
In Guilford County this week, 6.4% of all hospital beds have COVID patients. Currently 61/100 counties in NC (including Guilford) have a community level indicator of “high” strain with respect to COVID-19. The CDC advice for persons in these counties is to wear a mask indoors in public places.

COVID Medical Advisory Committee role
The committee serves in an advisory capacity to the Meeting on Ministry and Counsel, which makes its recommendations to Meeting for Business. Medical advisors update MM&C on current science and prevention strategies. MM&C balances infectious disease considerations with the spiritual and social needs of the New Garden community in recommending COVID policies to MFB.

Considerations in relaxing COVID policies
The COVID Medical Advisory Committee has advised MM&C that limiting room occupancy, masking, and restricting eating and singing to outdoors are policies that provide the highest level of safety for the most New Gardeners. If, however, the decision is made to relax these policies, these are the relevant considerations:

Needs of staff
The committee feels that staff members’ needs and preferences should weigh strongly on decisions about use of the building during working hours.

Community levels of transmission and masking
The CDC has recommended that persons in areas experiencing a high rate of community transmission wear a mask indoors in public places. The CDC has relaxed this recommendation for areas experiencing a low rate of transmission. The committee advises that any relaxation of NGFM masking policies be responsive to changes in these metrics and to fluctuations in our regional hospital capacity.

Individual health status
Persons at high risk of severe COVID illness include the elderly, people of any age with a compromised immune system or chronic medical condition, and the unvaccinated. Persons with a household member at high risk convey risk to those high-risk persons through their own exposures to the virus. Their protection depends on their masking themselves and on others’ masking when indoors with them. (N95 and KN95 masks have been shown to be more effective than other types.) The committee advises that relaxation of our COVID guidelines be undertaken with the understanding that certain activities may pose risks to persons at high risk of severe COVID illness and may effectively exclude high risk members of our community and their household members.

Mitigation of risks if policies are relaxed
• Meeting room and masking: for periods when masking is optional in the meeting room (ie, when community transmission is low), we strongly advise masking for persons who are at high risk of severe illness, who have a household member at high risk of severe illness, and who are unvaccinated; alternatively, advise high-risk persons to participate by Zoom or FB.
• Choir: if the decision is made to resume choir practice and performances on Sundays, we advise that the choir members be masked while singing.
• Congregational/group singing: if the decision is made to resume congregational singing indoors, we advise that everyone be masked while singing.
• Carry-in meals: for periods when we resume carry-in meals indoors (ie, when community transmission is low), we advise that everyone mask until seated (preferably in household groups); we advise that high-risk individuals and their household members be encouraged to serve themselves, masked, then eat outdoors only.
• Use of building during working hours (renters and New Gardeners); relaxation of masking and social distancing policies will depend on staff needs and preferences, TBD.

NGFM COVID Advisory Committee