COVID-19 Update - January 18
Since the last COVID-19 update on January 5, the situation has worsened substantially across Oklahoma. Daily cases eclipsed 14,000 over the weekend, which does not include the positive cases of at-home tests. Hospitals and emergency rooms are stretched beyond capacity. Pediatric cases are increasing. Hospitals are facing the double jeopardy of a spiking number of cases sending patients to the hospital for care and an alarming number of infected hospital staff being forced to stay at home. Schools across the presbytery are moving to distance learning because of the staggering numbers of sick teachers, students, staff, and substitutes.
Churches are facing similar perils. Increasing numbers of pastors, congregants, and staff are falling sick. The outbreaks have been so widespread in some congregations that they have already moved to online only worship services and activities. Even churches that have diligently promoted safety measures – masks, social distancing, vaccinations, and staying home when possibly infected – are experiencing numerous cases. The virus is simply too prevalent and too infectious.
Due to this unprecedented level of COVID-19 spread, I am requesting that the churches of Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery pause in-person worship and return to online only worship/activities for two weeks to allow COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations to peak and begin to decline. All presbytery committees should move to online meetings through the end of February, as well. The Winter Presbytery Meeting scheduled for February 15 was already scheduled to occur online.
Churches that continue in-person gatherings during this COVID surge should take all possible precautions including wearing high-quality masks at all times, social distancing while meeting in rooms or worship, checking temperatures upon entry, requesting possibly infected individuals to stay at home, and encouraging vaccinations and boosters.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a fluid situation from the beginning. It will remain so. Two years into this pandemic, I would not have anticipated I would be making this recommendation. I would not have predicted this level of spread for this virus either. Please continue to protect, care, and love your neighbor as yourself by doing all you can to prevent the spread of this deadly virus.
COVID-19 Update - July 19
Earlier this year, the combination of vaccinations, mask wearing, and social distancing dramatically reduced the spread of COVID-19 and allowed churches and most of the rest of society to return to pre-pandemic norms safely. We were able to celebrate Easter and Pentecost in-person. Vacation Bible Schools have been happening all summer long with more still to come before children go back to school. There have even been potlucks! Along with those church activities, summer vacations, social gatherings, and sporting events have fully resumed.
In recent weeks, however, there is rising concern about the Delta variant of COVID-19 bringing a third wave of sickness and death this summer and fall. This particularly virulent strain of the virus is spreading rapidly and widely. The spread of this variant is already stretching the hospital capacity in the neighboring states of Missouri and Arkansas. The eastern counties of Oklahoma are seeing a steep rise in cases, as well. The current trajectory is troubling as kids return to school in August and churches prepare for fall activities.
This surge in cases happens as much of our church population is vaccinated, but before the youngest members of our communities have approved vaccines to take. Many others remain unvaccinated for a variety of health and personal reasons. In a context when so many are so vulnerable to an increasingly deadly variant of COVID-19, precautions should be taken.
I would recommend all churches in Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery resume 1) the mandatory use of masks while in church buildings immediately, 2) social distancing while worshipping and gathering at church, and 3) other preventive measures (hand sanitizing, limited fellowship gatherings, etc.) that churches utilized earlier in the pandemic to halt the spread of this virus in our communities. Some churches have already proactively implemented these steps because of concerns in their areas.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a fluid situation from the beginning. It will remain so. Please continue to protect, care, and love your neighbor as yourself by doing all you can to prevent the spread of this deadly virus.
COVID-19 Update - March 8
Today, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance for fully vaccinated individuals. People are considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks following their second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine or two weeks after the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The new guidance allows fully vaccinated people to 1) gather indoors without wearing a mask and 2) to gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. This is a major milestone in the fight against this pandemic and should be celebrated.
The guidance continues to recommend that 1) all people wear masks and utilize safety precautions in public and group settings, 2) fully vaccinated people not gather with people from more than one household, and 3) fully vaccinated people not visit an unvaccinated person who is at increased risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 or who lives with a person at increased risk. The effectiveness of the various vaccines against the COVID-19 variants is still unknown. Until that threat is better known, precautions continue to be recommended.
This latest guidance does not change previous recommendations and cautions as we continue through Lent and approach Holy Week. While substantial portions of our church population may now be fully vaccinated, many worshippers will not be. The risk to the unvaccinated is too great to relax mask wearing and other safety precautions by fully vaccinated people in small or large gatherings. Mask wearing and safety precautions are still recommended for people who participate in in-person worship or other church gatherings.
Please continue to care for your siblings in Christ and help to protect their lives.
COVID-19 Resources - February 10
New Castle Presbytery hosted an informative update yesterday about the COVID-19 pandemic and what it means for churches with Lisa Allgood, career immunocytochemist and Executive Presbyter for Cincinnati Presbytery. The video of that deep and technical dive into where we stand is below. This resource and the links below may be helpful as congregations and sessions discuss plans for the next months.
COVID-19 Update - November 10th
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the churches of Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery. In many communities, the daily positive case numbers are at record numbers. Hospital ICUs are near or at capacity. Many schools are reversing course and being forced back to online learning because of out of control community spread of the virus in classrooms and halls. As I write today, Oklahoma has over 20,000 active cases of the Coronavirus and seven-day average over 2,000 positive cases a day.
While wearing a mask and washing hands has helped to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, those measures were not mandated in all areas or practiced in all churches. Now we are set to navigate this “second wave” of increased cases as we enter the holiday season. With cases spiking before the holiday season, there is growing concern about the spread of the virus during and after Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas as families, friends, and communities come into greater contact. These concerning numbers are expected to continue their rise. Read More HERE.
COVID-19 and the Flu Resource - October 6th
The flu season will complicate an already tenuous situation as churches navigate COVID-19. COVID-19 and the flu are both respiratory illnesses and share common symptoms. They are also differ in important ways. While experts learn more every day about the novel coronavirus, see what we already know about flu vs COVID-19 by clicking HERE
Office Disruptions and Contact Information
The Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery office is open, but our hours or availability may be limited so please call ahead to the presbytery office before arriving. Our phone number is 918-582-3077.
If you need to get in touch with us, our direct contact information is below:
General Presbyter Tim Blodgett: 918-808-0484 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Stated Clerk Leigh McCaslin: 918-718-4572 or email@example.com
Administrative Assistant Celia Gerfers: 918-269-3194 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has gathered all of the denominational resources together into one updated webpage for easier viewing and reference. Please take a look at all the available resources HERE.
The Presbyterian Foundation has created a one-stop, simple to read resource for all things related to COVID-19 legislation. Find out more HERE.
Free 24-Hour Support Line
Cigna is offering a separate 24-hour toll-free help line, to support resiliency during this time of high stress and anxiety.
If you are aware of any retired member or an employee who is not eligible for the EAP, please let them know they have access to Cigna by calling 866-912-1687 to connect with qualified clinicians, including licensed social workers, profressional counselors, and psychologists, who can provide support and guidance.