COVID Update March 6th, 2023
Dear St. Martin’s Community:
As promised in late January, your ad hoc infectious diseases committee, fondly and irreverently known as the Medicine Cabinet, continues to monitor the tripledemic of COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in Philadelphia, tracking cases and, more importantly, hospitalizations and deaths, in order to assess when we can recommend moving from requiring masks to a mask-optional policy. Based on the current trajectory, we are now recommending that step.
We are thrilled, as everyone is, that these bad bugs are receding, and we are collectively safer. And we want to alert you to a few important conditions:
1. While mask mandates have largely been relaxed across the U.S., health authorities continue to recommend masking under certain conditions. As of now, we are at a medium level of community transmission in Philadelphia. The city health department continues to strongly recommend masking indoors, as does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC is urging additional precautions for people who are at high risk of getting very sick and for anyone around people at high risk of getting very sick, which CDC says is adults 50 years old and older, as well as those with more than one chronic illness, like diabetes, high blood pressure, or cancer, and those who are immunocompromised. CDC recommends wearing a high-quality and well-fitting mask, distancing from others indoors (6 feet or more), and handwashing/sanitizing. This is a moving target. As the weather warms and we can open windows and doors, the risk of being indoors unmasked will fall.
2. We need to respect those in our beloved community who may continue to feel that masking is the safest option for them. For those who opt not to mask, please recognize that your uncovered nose and mouth may make some uncomfortable. We know many in our community continue to be fearful of infection. They are anxious for themselves, for family members, for friends. We ask for empathy and compassion for their concerns, which have kept members of our community away from church for the past two-plus years. In close conversation, please consider asking them if they would be more at ease if you mask. It’s a small gesture that can go a long way to building connection – communion – with your fellow parishioners. Plus, it’s just polite. This is the new etiquette.
3. If you or your family members have any symptoms consistent with any of these viruses – fever, cough, headache, sniffles, and so on – please stay home. It could be seasonal allergies. Or it might not, and you could be putting others at risk. That’s not consistent with our call to love one another.
4. As we move into spring and summer, these viruses will continue to ebb. But they will likely resurge in the fall and winter. Please know we will continue to monitor the situation in Philadelphia and will make evidence-informed and faith-based recommendations to clergy about if or when we may need to return to masking. Among the data points we have and will continue to evaluate are these: reported cases, hospitalizations, hospital bed capacity, and deaths, along with recommendations from city, commonwealth, and federal health authorities.
5. Our committee urges all our fellow parishioners, in consultation with a care provider, to be vaccinated for flu and COVID and to be fully boosted for COVID (for most people that means 5 shots as of now) to protect yourself and others. The FDA is poised to approve at least two options for adult RSV vaccination, well in time for a fall resurgence. Please talk to your care provider about this. Globally, RSV is a significant cause of illness and death for older people.
As always, your questions, concerns, and comments are welcomed by the committee. Thank you for putting your faith into action and protecting those around you, and yourself.
Sandy Abrams, PT, MEd, DPT
Physical Therapist, Chestnut Hill Hospital
James Buehler, MD
Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University
Former Commissioner, Philadelphia Dept. of Public Health
Former CDC Official
Dick Dupuis, MD
Lydia Ogden, PhD, MPP
Former CDC Official
Nate Pierce, MD
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
International Health Department
Paula Wineland, MD
Tags: COVID Response