By Curt Collier and Jim Norman
Inevitably our Society, like all congregations and organizations nationwide, will need to wrestle with the decision of when to move to a mask-optional policy for in-person gatherings. That moment has arrived for this congregation. Like our sister Societies who have revised their masking policy to reflect CDC recommendations (St. Louis, Westchester, Riverdale-Yonkers, Long Island, Northern Virginia and Mid Rivers), we, too, are making changes to update our COVID-19 policies.
Going forward, the Society continues to recommend masking, but masks are now optional for the Friends & Family Circle (9:45 am) and the Platform (11 am), as well as select other programs.
To be sure, this is what has NOT changed:
● The Society strongly recommends that all members and visitors to this Society be vaccinated and boosted. The science cannot be more clear on this. Vaccines save lives and reduce your risk of COVID -elated hospitalization by 94% (CDC).
● If you are feeling at all unwell or have a fever, do not come to the Society, and get tested as soon as possible. The Ethical Society provides FREE COVID tests (while supplies last or until summer 2023, when they expire). We will keep some rapid tests near the door in case anyone wants to take that added measure.
● If you test positive for COVID, you need to remain away from the Society. Please DO NOT return to the Ethical Society until you test negative.
● The Society will be offering KN95 masks free for all visitors wanting to participate in Society activities but who want to do so masked. These masks reduce COVID transmission 83% better than most other masks (CDC). In addition, for extra protection you might want to keep your own well-fitting mask on and double up with the KN95. These need to fit tightly over your nose and mouth.
● All visitors are requested to wash their hands frequently, and hand sanitizer is always available in our restrooms and on the banquet table in the back of the meetinghouse.
● The Ethical Society will continue to offer online alternatives for all members and guests for our Sunday morning Platform (11 am gathering). Volunteers are needed to help keep up this important service.
● As long as the weather permits, the Society will also open its doors for those who want to socialize outdoors before and after the services. We will provide a tent in case of rain until the weather is simply too cold.
● As we did previously, and to the extent possible depending on the weather, we will continue to offer celebrations and large public events outside under the tents. This setup also requires volunteers, and we appreciate your help.
● If you have a medical condition that has weakened your immune system, please think twice about attending any public events, including at the Society. We expect people to be aware and to make choices in the best interest of their own health.
● The Society will continue to offer mask-only events per the discretion of the event organizers. If a member organizes an additional event at our Society, they have the right to require that all participants remain masked. Our new mask-optional policy applies only to Family & Friends and the Platform.
Current COVID transmission rate is a factor
New signage will be posted at the entrance of our building with these policies, as well as online and in our social media so that visitors can weigh their own health risks. Also, additional events and activities will list the COVID policy on the outreach materials so that participants know the requirements in advance of participation. This policy is wholly dependent on the current transmission rate of Bergen County, which is currently low. Should that change, we will immediately call an emergency Board meeting, and we reserve the right to change this policy to further protect our membership.
Many health and safety measures in place
The Ethical Society continues to regard the health and safety of its membership as a priority, and at Board meetings for the past two years (and prior to my arrival), the community’s health and safety has been a frequent topic of conversation. The Reopening Task Force set up by the Board has made recommendations and they have been given due consideration. The Board worked to ensure that our services went hybrid, and purchased equipment and found volunteers to make that possible, purchased airflow-filtering equipment, purchased masks and offered free rapid tests, made it a requirement to be vaccinated to enter our doors, moved our unvaccinated children away from the adults by adding a second service at a different time, purchased tents to hold eating events outdoors, set up and activated a contact-tracing system, canceled events such as our Family Weekend when they couldn’t guarantee our safety, canceled the Skills Auction despite our financial challenges, put up signage, put our COVID requirements on our website (which many Societies didn’t do), discontinued any eating events indoors, including our social hour, and debated until well into the night on many of these issues.
This revision to our policy is part of that ongoing process.
Curt Collier is leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County. Jim Norman is president of the Society’s Board of Trustees.