Masking Guidelines Beginning February 28, 2022
Jacob’s Well Community Church’s Leadership Team, working with the professional assessments and opinions of current and former medical professionals in our congregation, has decided to lift our requirement for masks for everyone 2-years old and older beginning Monday, February 28, 2022, in line with the plan of the Governor’s Office and the Illinois Department of Public Health.
It is important to note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health continue to recommend masking in all indoor settings in areas of high or substantial transmission, which is how McLean County continues to be categorized by CDC statistical analysis.
In light of these recommendations to continue masking, Jacob’s Well Community Church will provide free N95/KN95 masks for adults and children beginning at our Ash Wednesday Service, Wednesday, March 2, for those who choose to continue masking. We realize there are a variety of views on masking in our congregation as well as individuals who are immunosuppressed or immunocompromised. Evidence strongly supports that one-way masking with a correctly fitting N95/KN95 mask provides substantial protection to the wearer, regardless of whether others are masked or not.
While children age 5 and younger are not currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, the risk to children for severe disease remains low. We acknowledge that different groups are handling this reality differently. However, we are not at this time requiring masks for those adults serving in The Springs or for children participating in The Springs. Free children’s N95/KN95 masks will be made available beginning Sunday, March 6, and families will be encouraged to make their own choices about masking for children.
Two final important policy notes: While this lifting of mask requirements at Jacob’s Well is not deemed “temporary,” it will remain the prerogative the Leadership Team to solicit counsel from our congregation’s current and former medical professionals and make determinations about COVID-19 risk mitigation strategies in the event of future surges in infections and hospitalizations. Moreover, we continue to ask those experiencing symptoms of any respiratory illness to attend worship virtually until their symptoms have resolved.
Throughout the tumultuous years of this pandemic we have aimed to keep love of God and love of neighbor as our guiding principles in making decisions regarding public health in our congregation. The decisions we have made are not the only ways to express love of God and love of neighbor, and we realize that our policies have either actually been exclusionary to some in our church or have felt so. No doubt, the decisions make now will either actually be exclusionary to some or will feel so. As we move from requiring masks in worship to recommending them, let us continue to love God and one another, to have the mind of Christ for one another instead of requiring all to hold the same opinions, and to trust that the God who has brought us this far will not abandon us.
Please read on for more details about where we started with risk mitigation and how we have come to our current conclusions.
Jacob’s Well Risk Mitigation History
In March 2020, when the Governor’s Office and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced stay at home orders and implemented mask mandates for public spaces, we complied by pivoting, overnight, to holding our worship services virtually. At this point, COVID-19 was novel and poorly understood apart from its similarities to other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, and apart from respirators and supplemental oxygen, we had no medical interventions available for its prevention or treatment.
We remained worshiping virtually until June 28, 2020, at which point we began meeting outdoors. Studies at this point suggested that COVID-19 was very difficult to transmit between people in outdoor settings where sunlight, humidity, and windspeed variables made it difficult for the virus to survive independent of a host for more than a few minutes. We continued worshiping outdoors until Sunday, November 1, 2020.
At this point we implemented a preregistration system for church attendance in an attempt to limit the capacity in the sanctuary to 50% to accommodate physical distances between households of at least 6 feet. In addition, masks were required for anyone attending worship in the sanctuary. We limited the number of songs sung in worship, and asked those attending to refrain from singing aloud. These strategies were in place to mitigate the spread of the virus via respiratory droplets, which spread readily and unchecked in indoor settings through normal breathing in addition to coughing, sneezing, talking, and singing.
These were difficult decisions that were not made lightly or without recognition of what was lacking in our shared practice of Christian spirituality in corporate worship. We continued with these mitigation strategies in place until Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021, when we worshiped outdoors. We then returned to indoor worship with the above measures in place until returning to outdoor worship from May 16 through October 24, 2021.
When we returned to indoor worship on October 31, 2021, we dropped the preregistration system and capacity limits in the sanctuary as well as the limits on congregational singing, because safe and effective vaccines had been widely available to the public for approximately 7 months. During the summer, when we replaced our A/C and heaters, we had a UV light virus-killing filtration system installed as well. We retained the practice of masking for all individuals 2-years old and older to disrupt the free spread of respiratory droplets.
Since our first email addressing our review of our masking policy was sent on Monday, February 14, there have been additional local developments. The Governor’s Office and IDPH’s plans to continue mask mandates in public schools were problematized by the ruling in the Sangamon County circuit court to temporarily block the mask mandate in public schools. Since then, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules in the Illinois state legislature voted to overturn the COVID mitigation rules in public schools, and an appellate court upheld the Sangamon County circuit court’s decision.
While neither Unit 5 nor District 87 were party to the original suit, they have both moved to make masks optional. ISU’s lab schools continue to require masks at this time. We also have students from Clinton CUSD 15 and Trinity Lutheran School, both of which have also recently moved to make masks optional. Of course, we also have several children who are homeschooled (where masks are obviously not required with the possible exception of time spent with other families in co-ops) or in private pre-schools (which all differ in their practices).
These developments in other spheres of public life, the announcement of policies to be enacted by the Governor’s Office and the IDPH, the guidance of the CDC, and most of all the professional assessments and opinions of current and former medical professionals in our congregation have assisted us in coming to the conclusions documented above.