A Two-step Program for Going Back to Church

For the last few weeks, and for the rest of the summer, pretty much my whole day job is to plan various scenarios under which a university might open in the fall. It turns out this is a job with about a billion moving pieces, any one of which could blow up at any time and make it impossible to launch a semester. 

There is a lot for universities to consider: What happens with residential students in thier home spaces? How do we schedule classes with social distancing? Can we get PPEs for everybody? What about testing? Contact tracing? How do we handle clinical placements? What about student teaching? And how do the performing arts–especially music and theatre–do the core things that make them who they are?

Fortunately, almost none of these are issues for the much simpler prospect of going back to Church. Nobody lives in our chapels. We don’t have testing responsibilities or health clinics. We don’t have student Mormons who have to find placement in the community. The Church has neither a stated nor an implied in loco parentis relationship with its parishioners. 

Assuming (as appears to be the case) that we are willing to take the newly minted two-hour block and make it a one-hour block, then we just need to figure out a way to keep a modest number of people reasonably protected for one hour a week. This is doable. We have now had a chance to see what does and what does not work in these situations, and we know exactly what to do to keep COVID-19 from spreading in places like Church buildings.

So, though I have no reason to suspect that anyone in the Church, leaders or followers, will take my advice, I nonetheless offer my two-step plan for getting back to Church, whenever local public health officials determine that the spread of the virus within the community has slowed enough to permit public gatherings:

Step One: Wear Masks.
Step Two: Don’t Sing,

There are lots of other things that people can do, but, in my opinion (after what feels like a lifetime of reading studies and recommendations), these are the two most important things that churches of all kinds can do to keep their congregations safe.

Let’s start with face coverings. Masks work to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And we have enough data now to say that having everyone wear face coverings when they assemble in groups is the single most effective thing (other than staying home forever) to slow the spread of the virus. 

And yet, in ways that I suspect will be studied for years, wearing masks has become yet another flashpoint in the endless American culture war. Wearing, and not wearing masks have both now become affiliated with a “side.” (If you don’t believe me, come back tomorrow and read the comments on this article–I guarantee that they will be full of people whose quick Google search has convinced them that there is no health value at all to wearing masks and that they may actually cause hitherto unknown diseases). As a result, many communities are being deprived of the safety that comes when everybody has enough concern for the community to cover their faces.

I dearly hope that Churches won’t get sucked into this battle. Face coverings work when EVERYBODY wears them. They are much less effective when only some people wear them. A face mask is not like a seatbelt or a motorcycle helmet, where you mainly risk your own safety if you don’t wear it. An individual wearing a mask in a crowded room has very little protection from COVID-19. But an individual wearing a mask in a room where everybody else is wearing a mask too will be substantially protected against the virus–as will everybody else in the room. What more fitting environment could there be than a Church for showing this kind of concern for our fellow human beings?

And then there is singing. We. Can’t. Do. It. Short of French kissing everybody in the room or licking each other’s eyeballs, congregational singing is the worst possible thing that we could do in the era of COVID-19. Every note is a droplet-fest, and a single, asymptomatic person could infect an entire congregation before the end of the first verse.

This does not mean that music cannot be part of our services. It absolutely can. We have the video and audio technology to bring the greatest sacred music of the last thousand years into our chapels, sung by the most excellent church choirs in the world. Rather than singing ourselves, and thereby putting the entire congregation in danger, we could listen to attentively and ponder, not just the words, but the glory of God manifest through the creative spirit.

Whenever we go back, we have to realize that we can’t do Church the way that we have always done it. And this is not just getting through a month or two. All of the guidelines that I read in my day job say that we should plan on COVID-19 being with us for at least 18 months to two years–and may be as long as five years. It isn’t going away any time soon, so we are going to have to learn how to live with it. And we will have to change a lot of things that we have always taken for granted to protect each other from harm. Here are two ways to start.

Comments

  1. NotSayin' says:

    Anyone who can wear a white shirt and tie because it’s expected of them can wear a mask to protect others.

  2. >Whenever we go back, we have to realize that we can’t do [it] the way that we have always done it.

    I’m sadly realizing this is applicable to many situations.

    The church showed a lot of influential leadership in shutting things down and the beginning. I sure hope that same wisdom prevails when it comes to opening things back up.

  3. These are good, and if you have to keep it to two, these are the two.

    If I had the authority of a pulpit, I’d mandate a third: the sacrament can’t be prepared and *definitely* can’t be administered as usual. Passing trays and the small starch sponges we call bread or little cups of water around the room is offering viral hitch-hikers a ride between the hands and mouths in the room. Bring your own bread and water, the priests bless it with their prayer same as usual, everyone ponders and partakes.

    I assume Michael has thought of this, and isn’t treading on that ground partly because it two things is a small easily remembered number, and partly because if recommending masks freaks some people out, recommending any kind of change to how an ordinance is performed is going to an extra challenge for some, much like the idea that the sabbath is made for man can be.

  4. My friend in Utah was in a grocery store, shopping, wearing a mask. A woman she didn’t know came up to her and started berating her, yelling, “Why are you wearing a mask? Don’t you believe in the constitution? In freedom?”. Anyway, here it is so political it’s frightening. If the prophet told everyone to wear a mask in church, I think they would. Otherwise, I think we’re going to have to divide into meetings for “mask wearers “ and a different meeting for “non mask wearers “

  5. Anon for now says:

    I agree about the singing. It is a very risky vector of transmission and I do not question that.

    But honestly, communal singing of the “songs of Zion” with the “saints of Zion” was one of the few things keeping me motivated to attend church and feel connected with everyone. The physical act of singing is such a central part of what makes worship worship for me that abstaining from it while at church will be perhaps the biggest trial of my faith in my life. I’m sitting here weeping just thinking about it.

  6. Michael Austin says:

    W–

    The main reason I did not talk specifically about the Sacrament is that I was trying to say something that would apply reasonably well to non-LDS congregations as well, as the issue of re-opening churches is currently very much in the news all over.

  7. Aussie Mormon says:

    The handshaking and the hugging/kissing on cheek greetings will be one of the biggest things to deal with.

  8. If masks work so well, why did they release prisoners because they feared they would get COVID19, why didn’t they just have them wear masks???

  9. Diana, its because the masks’ effectiveness is increased only when its paired with proper social distancing, which is impossible in narrow jail cells. (Goodness, Michael, you weren’t kidding; it didn’t take long for the anti-maskers to come out, did it).

  10. Prisoners were released not because masks are not effective, but rather because proximity and population density are significant transmission factors, not to mention that prisons are not usually known for their cleanliness–which also contributes to the spread of the virus.

    Speaking of cleaning, I have a difficult time envisioning a scenario in which multiple brief sacrament meetings could be held in the same building on the same day with a deep, comprehensive, and effective cleaning accomplished between those meetings.

    For all of the concerns about restarting meetings, I have to give my ward and stake their due–despite the Utah Area Presidency give the go-ahead, our local leadership is being judicious and thoughtful….and, amazingly, soliciting input from the rest of us. Hopefully, this will be more common than not, although I have my doubts.

  11. Michael, you took the suggestions right out of my mouth. I do have one caveat, though, on the singing. I’ve composed a new hymn entitled “Silence in Heaven” that I think we could safely sing.

    https://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2020/05/22/back-to-church-wishlist/

  12. I’m okay with wearing a mask to church, but if they try to police the color and/or print of my mask, I’m out.

  13. Michael Austin says:

    Ziff, as much as I like your song, I’m afraid that we cannot adopt it, on the advice of counsel. You have apparently plagiarized this entire page from John Cage’s concert piece 4’33”–and the Cage estate is known for their fierce protection of their intellectual property:

    https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/74099/musician-settles-suit-on-silent-piece

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    At least half the reason I even go to church is to sing. But there is no getting around it, the singing has to stop.

  15. Wow, Michael. That’s amazing! Best to be safe, though. You’re right.

  16. Anon wrote,
    “But honestly, communal singing of the “songs of Zion” with the “saints of Zion” was one of the few things keeping me motivated to attend church and feel connected with everyone. The physical act of singing is such a central part of what makes worship worship for me that abstaining from it while at church will be perhaps the biggest trial of my faith in my life. I’m sitting here weeping just thinking about it.”

    I’m weeping with you. I know it’s necessary to give up congregational singing in the short-to-medium term, but as much as listening to recordings of beautiful sacred music masterfully performed can be a powerful, worshipful, and even communal experience, it is just not the same kind of communal experience as congregational singing.

  17. Left Field says:

    What’s the word epidemiologically, regarding singing with a mask on? I mean I know it’s going to muffle the sound and that wouldn’t be ideal for recording and performing and all, but in my case, it’s probably a musical improvement.

  18. Pyrogolfer says:

    I’m not trying to be snarky, but if masks are effective, why couldn’t we sing?

  19. Michael Austin says:

    Masks are effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 as long as they are used together with other measures. They are not magic shields. Even with a mask, you shouldn’t french kiss the whole room, lick anybody’s eyeballs, or sing.

  20. Pyrogolfer says:

    I understand not french kissing the whole room or licking anyone’s eyeballs, I just don’t see where a mask would be any less effective at filtering droplets caused by singing than it would those caused by speaking.

  21. The ZD suggestion of having the sacrament prayers read at the pulpit instead of the actual ordinance would mean we wouldn’t have to mess with our masks to partake. I like that much better than bring-your-own-bread.

  22. I agree with every word “anon for now” wrote. I would rather just stay home than have to go back to church and not sing. Singing is worship. There is no life to the service without it. There are really only two ways we participate in our sacrament services: we partake of the sacrament, and we sing. Everything else is just passive listening, not doing.

  23. For years we’ve been taught that partaking of the sacrament is the whole reason we have sacrament meeting. Hence, I guess, the term “sacrament meeting.” Is there still a reason to have in-person church for devotional purposes if there is no sacrament? (Obviously, in-person church serves an important social/community function.)

  24. Although my ward and stake didn’t actively solicit input, I provided mine after being disappointed at the inadequacy of the direction provided out of church headquarters. I’m happy to report that my stake and ward leaders are willing to go beyond what the church directed, and I am confident that when services resume (I think at the start of June) they will be reasonably safe for most attendees.

    The leaders are also emphasizing that no person especially vulnerable to covid-19 nor even anyone who feels unsafe in attending should feel compelled to do so. As one of the vulnerable population, I’ll be staying home for the time being, and I am grateful the leadership is saying I shouldn’t be judged for my decision.

  25. Michael Austin says:

    Pyrogolfer ,

    A mask limits the number of airborne particles containing COVID-19 that can escape from an infected person into the environment, but it does not reduce them to zero. The more you do other things with the potential to release airborne particles, the less effective the mask is. Sitting in a row and breathing normally releases fewer of these particles, with or without a mask. Talking for long periods of time releases more. Singing, which involves keeping the mount open for a long period of time and breathing out more heavily than one normally does, releases even more. So singing involves more risk with or without a mask.

    Here is a fairly lengthy discussion about the problems with singing that was sponsored by The National Association of Teachers of Singing and several other related groups. This report is still being processed by the teaching community, but here is a brief gloss from a report on the conference:

    1) There is no spacing solution for singing groups that would eliminate risk.
    Both Halstead and Milton cite lack of proper ventilation as a cause to spread the aerosolized virus. Even multiple changes of air per hour in the room or an ultraviolet light may not fully eliminate the virus, which can infect people “at the micron level and can travel as far as 16 feet.”

    Physical distancing on a stage for a choir, according to Halstead, would not be possible: “You would need a football stadium to space apart the Westminster choir”.

    2) Masks don’t provide safe methods of singing
    On masks, Halstead states, “there are no barriers currently safe for singing.” An N95 mask may provide some measure of safety if fit-tested, but it would be “difficult to breathe,” “hot,” “decrease the levels of oxygen with rebreathing,” “cause headaches with an increase of CO2,” and “could injure people with significant health issues, like asthma.”

    Milton outlines a study of influenza patients who sat in masks for half an hour without coughing and “simply recited the alphabet three times.” Even speaking only a few sentences, participants with masks shed influenza virus from their breath in fine particles that escaped their masks.

    https://www.middleclassartist.com/post/nats-panel-of-experts-lays-out-sobering-future-for-singers-no-vaccine-no-safe-public-singing?fbclid=IwAR18hEX9T_U0X6VFrUROoB6VlaQ-IR2mqj0h9gRGpNLnPXwbwI6UCKte-is

    tl;dr

    There are no guarantees, just greater and lesser degrees of risk. Singing is higher-risk than most other activities, with or without a mask. That means that singing with a mask increases the risk over not singing while wearing a mask.

  26. Why bother says:

    It might be best if we just live our lives in incubators in rubber rooms. Not fair? Neither is commentary that people who don’t wear masks want old people to die. So let’s make sure the ad hominem is out of the way.

    It’s fair to discuss the efficacy of masks. The ones everyone will be using are more pourous than a coffee filter. A coffee filter is resonably effective at 20,000 nanometers.

    Viral particles are about 110nm.

    You do the math.

    Ya ya, spit residue. That’s like telling someone your hiv virus is trapped inside the seminal fluid so a coffee filter will do the trick. (Incidentally, condoms filter down to 110nm and hiv virus sized particles still have been measured getting through – even though it’s “trapped” in seminal fluid.

    So tell me how your virus just won’t float right through into the air. These things are hard to measure and approximating studies aren’t even close to the real world, and corollation studies don’t explain everything. There are too many factors in how the virus spreads to pin it down with any confidence on a face mask when you look at different nations etc.

    It seems that genetics and ethnicity also have a large role in immune systems that can more likely spread or be receptive.

    Tell me how you think an airborne virus can be contained when they travel up into the atmosphere and rain down on us daily by the hundreds of millions. (Fortunately those seem to be inert)

    That being said, if we need to wear the mask and look at the brass serpent, so be it. But the reality is that mask you’re wearing doesn’t do what you think it’s doing. And you have to right to get upset at someone for not wearing one. I’m fine if you want to wear it though.

    Being sick isn’t a crime. Being suspected of being sick isn’t a crime. Being in moderate proximity isn’t a crime.

    We’re losing our humanity over fear, not of death (really the stats bear this out, even as it is serious, we have a lot of fear here).

    As with so many post modem issues, we seem to find one side of the argument defined in a way that if you disagree you’re a not just wrong, but really need to be stopped. There’s no room for different opinions when you define disagreement as death inducing. This is really tragic.

    But finally to the point of this article, let’s turn this around. The men can wear cloaks and hooded masks and the women can wear full veils.

    In seriousness, there should be some recognition that the modern day God we worship mirrors medical science, right down do the face covering we wear.

    In ancient times, and indeed modern ones, women cover their faces entirely. Shall both genders do the same? Further, if opposite genders never touched, that would reduce 30-50% of contact right there.

    The problem with these proposals is none of them weigh the severity of the problem any the relative effectiveness of the solution. At what point have you gone too far? Or where have you not gone far enough?

    None of the classrooms really work, so we cancel classes. For how long? Until the next virus gathers steam? You can’t ever know what the outbreak will become, and even now the government is criticized for taking too long. So anytime there’s an outbreak degree somewhere, we shutdown travel and cancel church. That’s not a system our buildings are made for.

    The solutions you are ultimately looking for suggest little too no church. Maybe once a month gatherings of ministering families? Why have a building at all? Maybe turn it into a communal rec center that ministering families can be assigned to use together on their monthly timeshift?

    But that’s not far enough and it’s not good enough. We have the rest of society. Dentists, waiting rooms, malls, amusement parks, mass transit, apartment buildings, central air, etc. None of it holds up under the weight of this new paradigm.

    But that is the corner we are either forced into by evolutionary virology or by our assumptions and reactions to the current state.

    Cancelling songs and wearing masks isn’t enough if you accept the premise.

    And if you carry the premise through to its conclusion, everything must change.

    I realize this comment is scorned etc. But you have to deal with the fact that millions of people agree with me and even more strongly and less politely.

    And I have to deal with the fact that millions are also worried that the sky is falling if we don’t say inside until someone sticks us with a needle and says everything will be ok.

    This is a mess.

  27. lastlemming says:

    My employer is throwing an (online) anniversary party in a few weeks and the director of the office choir is determined that we will provide a song. He has arranged for somebody to record some accompaniment and he will record the first vocal contribution. He will then send that mix to the choir members, each of whom will record their own vocal contribution. All of those contributions will be mixed to produce the final result. I can tell you right now that it is going to sound terrible. But we only get one shot at it. A ward (or just the ward choir) could perfect the technique over time and eventually make it sound good. Anybody who feels the need to sing could participate, and we could listen to ourselves during sacrament meeting. Not the old way by a long shot, but more communal than listening to MoTab.

  28. Yes. Wear masks. Don’t sing. And (as noted above) figure out another way than LDS traditional or Episcopal traditional or Roman Catholic traditional (the ones I know a little or a lot about) communion.

    But the fully anticipated comments, especially about masks, remind me of an excellent article by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker on May 13. He comments from the viewpoint of a hospital system (Mass General Brigham) with 75,000 employees which is open for business and operating through the crisis. He describes what it takes, what works, how they’re doing it. Not surprisingly he leads with hygiene, distancing, screening, and masks. HIs arguments are effective, including the argument that all four as a combination therapy are important. But it’s his fifth pillar–a culture of keeping others safe–that I’m watching and waiting for.

    “Culture is the fifth, and arguably the most difficult, pillar of a new combination therapy to stop the coronavirus. People tend to focus on two desires: safety and freedom; keep me safe and leave me alone. What Doyle says she needs her people—both staff and residents—to embrace is the desire to keep others safe, not just themselves. She needs them to say, “I’m worried about my sore throat, and I am going to stay home.” Or “I am O.K. with being reminded to pull my mask up.” That is the culture of the operating room. It’s about wanting, among other things, never to be the one to make someone else sick.”

  29. Both steps you mentioned are important but safeguards, but insufficient. You need to lower risk as much as possible, so additional layers of protection should include distance between households seated in the chapel. At least six feet in every direction. Also, have everyone bring their own bread. You’ll still have some risk with the water being passed around, but it’s difficult to envision eliminating that. Third, it should be pretty well accepted by now, but no handshaking. Fourth, strong encouragement and consistent reminders from ward leadership to stay home if you have any of the recognizable symptoms, or have had them in the past week or been exposed to others that have. And finally, what about the cleaning that needs to take place with all touch points, such as door knobs and handles, light switches, bathrooms, etc? Including the two you mentioned, that would be a total of 7 layers of safeguards that should be implemented in each ward or branch.

  30. wayfarer says:

    We have a zoom ward hymn singing on Sunday pm, I’m amazed at how comforting I find it to sing with my brothers and sisters. I’m one who is very happy after a lifetime of insanely committed church service to just live a little on the sabbath, but I seem to miss structure.

  31. jacobbender1 says:

    I don’t know why I’m bothering with Why Bother–and the rest of you have shown admirable restraint–but I live in New Jersey, where we’ve had 11,000 deaths and counting; and near New York City, where they’ve had over 16,000 deaths and counting (or, over 5x that of 9/11); and hence this extraordinarily dismissive tone concerning the precautions necessary for reopening strikes me as mindbogglingly flippant. Everyone here in north Jersey knows multiple people who’ve been sick, who’ve been hospitalized, who’ve died; there is nothing to be flippant about here.

    One student of mine told me of a friend who was asymptomatic for 2 weeks before getting sick, who unknowingly passed it on to his grandpa, who then died from it. I don’t even know how one processes a guilt or trauma like that. I excused another student from turning in her final paper because she had tested positive, her mother had been hospitalized, and her uncle had died; any single one of those would be overwhelming under normal circumstances, but all 3 at once is beyond the pale. A lady I minister to at church became deathly ill; she recovered thankfully, but she works in a nursing home, where the disease has ravaged the elderly.

    Hence, snide, insinuating comments about how those people who insist on wearing masks must think people who don’t “want to kill old people” fails to acknowledge the reality and scale of the problem–because whether one intends it or not, refusing to wear a mask really will kill old people. It already has, in large numbers.

    If you live in a more spread-out and sparsely-populated western state where the virus has spread much more slowly than in the densely-packed northeast, then the proper response is to thank your lucky stars and express gratitude for your privileges, not grumble about extra precautions. Doing otherwise fails to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort. (I guess it’s true that “one death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic”; most people, if it hasn’t personally affected them yet, refuse to believe that mass-death is a real problem).

    Likewise, snide anti-vaxxer-style comments about those who await “a jab in the arm and says everything’s ok” abjectly fails to acknowledge the literal billions of lives saved due to the eradication of small pox, measles, tuberculosis, etc., thanks to vaccination. COVID-19 will not similarly disappear till we have a vaccine (or at least effective treatments), and hence really is the only sound strategy for returning to “normal,” if such is your chief priority. We should be cheering on vaccinations, not denigrating them. Yes, we could simply go about our lives, refuse to “live in fear”–as though angrily refusing to allow our “normal” to be violated isn’t itself a form of fear–and wait till it mutates into a less virulent form, but that is how we got 50-100 million deaths during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

    Claiming that “millions think like me” is an Ad Populum logical fallacy; I wouldn’t let me students get away with it, and I won’t let you, either. Truth is not a democracy, and facts don’t care whether you acknowledge them or not. And the fact is, 100,000 Americans have died–so far. That is approximately 40,000-88,000 more than die annually in the U.S. from the common flu, because this is not a common flu. (I hate to state the obvious, but there is apparently still wide-spread confusion on this point). No one likes wearing a mask; we all look forward to the day when we won’t have to anymore–especially those of us who insist on wearing them; but the only mess here comes from confusing a mask for a shibboleth, not a very real public health concern. Just because there are two sides to an issue does not mean both sides are equally valid.

  32. reaneypark says:

    Risk is a part of life. For most people, the most dangerous thing they will do when they come back to church is get in a car and drive to the building. And yet, few even consider how risky that activity really is.

    Was church ever really “safe”? Will it ever really be “safe” again?

    If we have church by going to a joyless room half full of faceless people for an hour a week to listen to pre-recorded music and hear a muffled speaker trying not to spit words out, then count me and my family out.

    We’ll instead gladly gather in our home or in nature and let our souls commune with our creator until church is church again.

  33. Freckles says:

    Thank you, jacobbender1. Totally agree with you.

  34. The question I have from your detailed reading of studies is if everyone in the congregation is wearing a mask, wouldn’t that negate the concern about singing? Or is there more to it?

  35. Emily, as Michael noted above, masks reduce but do not eliminate the risk of transmission. The more risky your transmission behavior is, the less effective a mask. So sitting quietly + mask = pretty low risk while pushing air out of your lungs with as much force as you can muster + mask = higher risk.

    As for risk being part of life, it’s true that societies may eventually settle on an acceptable level of risk arising from certain behaviors—Americans have clearly made their peace with driving automobiles. But with SARS-Cov-2 literally just months old, I believe it’s reasonable to spend at least months figuring out the risks before deciding they are acceptable to one and all.

  36. Another option for the sacrament might (or more likely, might not) be what I saw when accompanying my daughter to a Pentecostal service in Texas last year. When we entered the sanctuary we were handed a small plastic container. At a point in the service we could pull off the cover of the container, under which was a small piece of “bread.” Under that in another sealed part was a small portion of wine. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before, but it was obviously professionally manufactured. I think it would work better than passing bread and water openly from grubby little hands.

    So what do you think? Would the LDS Church go for that?

  37. Bill
    That would cost too much. The same as having our buildings cleaned by pros.

  38. I can’t believe how black or white some people’s thinking is. Will taking precautions make it 100% safe? No, so let’s not bother with any of it because it isn’t absolutely safe. OMG. And yes, getting in a car is a risk, but we don’t allow people to drive 200 miles per hour, because that increases the risk beyond necessary levels. This isn’t all or nothing. No, you will not be 100% safe if we all social distance and wear masks and don’t sing. But if that makes it 25% safer, or 50% safer, then isn’t it worth it? We are talking about not killing someone else by not driving at 200 miles per hour, and yet people are demanding that they have the right to take the risk and consequences to others be damned. Do some of you realize how uninformed and utterly selfish some of you sound? Have the common sense to listen to the best medical advice, not Fox News talking heads, and then have the courtesy to do everything you can to lower the risk of passing this virus around, while accepting that all that you can do is lower the risk. Life has no guarantees, but it does have things you can do to lower probability. Why badmouth the things that lower probability, just because they are not absolute?

  39. Brava, Anna.

    And thank you, Michael. That’s a wonderful two step process.

  40. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    COVID-19 poses so much more risk of death than driving. If driving had the same fatality rate, automobiles would have been banned decades ago. And remember, while driving drunk greatly increases your risk of death or injury, the most persuasive argument against it is the danger it poses to others. The extent to which those infected with SARS-CoV-2 are asymptomatic yet able to infect others mandates that we not be reckless in our interactions with others, even with their consent. When someone insists on walking down the middle of the road, and willingly and knowingly accepts the risks, I should still try to not run them down with my car.

  41. Cameron says:

    Rather than only listening to music, perhaps the congregation can hum in lieu of singing.

  42. Pyrogolfer says:

    Anna, your analogy to not allowing people to drive 200 miles per hour is good, except that people aren’t frustrated because they can’t go 200 mph, they’re frustrated because the speed limit used to be 45 mph and now everyone is suddenly only allowed to go 10, based on ever-changing, and in some cases totally illogical, “guidelines”. Those who do try to get back to 45 mph (or even 35) are maligned and personally attacked for not caring about their fellow man. I understand that risk is a part of life and we should do all we can to reduce it, but what is ultimately the acceptable level? As a society we can’t cater to the person or people with the lowest risk tolerance and shut down life for everyone else.

  43. Greg J, you write, “That would cost too much. The same as having our buildings cleaned by pros.” By what standards and information are you making that claim? Do you have any idea how much the church has? There are options. Plenty of them. As I see, the (very) small hit to the churches finances pails in comparison to possible benefits to some of these options.

  44. No handing down the sacrament. Each family holds its own bread as prayer is said and passes to its own family members.

  45. Michael Austin says:

    Some more on masks.

    The effectiveness of masks depends on what question you are asking, and I want to make sure that we ask the right one. If the question is, “Will cloth masks prevent me from getting COVID-19”? The answer is, no, only special surgical masks will do that, and only if they are worn correctly.

    If we ask, “Will masks prevent me from giving somebody else COVID-19 if I am an asymptomatic carrier?” the answer is more like “somewhat.” Masks of any kind prevent larger droplets from escaping into the air, and any kind of face-covering at all prevents some transmission of the virus to others. Maybe they only prevent 30-40% of potential transmissions, but that is not nothing. Wearing a mask is better than not wearing a mask.

    But when we ask the question, “Does my wearing a mask in public spaces as part of a community effort in which everybody else is wearing a mask in public spaces help to stop the spread of COVID-19?” the answer is yes, yes it does, by about 80%.

    https://bit.ly/weartheflippingmask

    This is why I say that wearing masks is effective if we all do it. Face covering is a public health strategy for protecting a population, not a strategy for protecting an individual. It is a community effort. Is it a sacrifice? Yes. It is hard and uncomfortable, and it means doing things differently, and who likes that?

    But Church is a place where the actions of the community matter. And coming together in masks–sacrificing convenience and comfort for the sake of other people–is a sort of trial run for the Kingdom of God. Zion, too, will have protesters demanding their freedom and unwilling to participate if they can’t do things the way they are used to doing them. But they won’t stay long, because that is not what Zion means.

  46. Pyrogolfer, I just do not see that limiting social contact and wearing a mask is comparable to reducing speed to 45 miles per hour when you are in the habit of going 70. And if it is and it saves someone’s life, then it is worth it. Now, because of lung damage, I find the mask very difficult to breath through, but I wear one anyway because I care about the people around me. If that is something I can do that will maybe save a life, then I will do it even if I find it inconvenient. And I do think those who are totally able bodied and whining about their freedom are just being selfish. If I can wear a mask with my lung damage, then what is your excuse? Your excuse comes down to, it isn’t worth inconveniencing myself for the heath of somebody near me. Yeah, pretty selfish.

  47. The speed limit is 70, but it’s snowing and visibility is limited and the road is slick. Sensible drivers slow down and leave more room between vehicles. No one wants to be in a multi-car pile up. The SUV with 4-wheel drive that races by puts everyone at risk when it slides into the ditch.

    You can claim that the drive is personally inconvenient, but the road conditions have changed.

  48. Would a Masked Singer joke lighten the mood, or would it be too much?

    In seriousness, I’m among those who would mourn the loss of congregational singing as fundamental to our worship, and my individual experience with the Spirit at church. I’m not disputing the need to step back from it, but I am very, very sad at the thought.

  49. Kristine says:

    Me, too, Adam. I don’t really know what it means to worship without singing. I’m sure we’ll figure it out as we go along, but it’s a little heartbreaking.

  50. Pyrogolfer says:

    Mark, I don’t disagree, but just because it’s snowing in one place doesn’t mean conditions are the same everywhere else. Obviously, during a snowstorm anyone with any sense slows down, but is someone who chooses to slow to 20 mph somehow more virtuous than someone who slows to 35 mph? The frustration comes from being called “selfish” just because one see things differently or doesn’t blindly buy into every guideline/restriction put forth by the government, particularly when there is so much conflicting information being spewed out by the “best” doctors (whatever that means). Unfortunately, the whole thing has become too politicized for rational dialogue by society as a whole.

  51. Michael Austin says:

    Pyrogolfer,

    I understand the frustration and the confusion that now surrounds the wearing of masks in a lot of public discourse. What I am trying to say in this post though, is that this confusion does not exist among those who are actually making or recommending policies about these issues. I work every day with doctors, nurses, public health officials, civil servants, politicians, and educators. These people fall all over the political spectrum. They are conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, Trump Supporters, Bernie Supporters, and everything in between. Every one of them believes that the five most important things that we as a society can do to prevent the spread of COVID 19 are: 1) Social Distancing; 2) handwashing; 3) face-covering in public spaces; 4) contact tracing; and 5) testing.

    From where I sit, these are not ideological issues. They are basic measures with broad support among the public health community in the United States and most other countries. They are backed up by plentiful evidence and by looking at what other communities have done that prevents the spread of the virus. If we do these things faithfully, we can drive the R0 of the virus down below 1 and limit its spread. If we don’t do them, we will eventually have to lock down again. That is where we are.

    This doesn’t need to be a political battle or a culture war. I wish we lived in a nation where people would want to come together to do the things that will help everybody to be safe. But we don’t. I persist in believing that we belong to a Church that is capable of this kind of other-motivated behavior, though. Because that is what Zion is all about.

  52. First time commenter, long time reader. I’m 31, and for the past 17 months, I’ve been fighting stage IV cancer that has spread to my lungs. About 8 months ago, my oncology team got me on a treatment that has been successful in stopping the spread, though not diminishing the cancer. Unfortunately by the time we started this treatment, the cancer and various treatments had ravaged my lungs and resulting in multiple lung surgeries, massive lung scarring, pneumonitis, and diminished long-term lung functionality. Up until March, my wife and I tried to make the best of things by traveling more and spending more time with friends and family, along with finishing my MBA program that I had just started when the cancer was discovered.

    Obviously what is best for me when it comes to returning to church (and other gatherings) isn’t broadly applicable, but I do understand the frustrations and empathize those that just want things to go back to normal. I want that too. Though we’ve stopped the growth of my cancer for now, it’s not going away, and I’d like to spend my time with others including on Sundays at church as I did before all of this. Unfortunately, my wife and I can’t just act is this pandemic never happened and just go back on with our lives. There seems to be a growing cry to just shelter the vulnerable and let everyone else get on with their lives. I understand that impulse, but please remember what that means for us that are vulnerable. It means that we continue to go through all of the things everyone else would just wish went away and we do so by ourselves. It means staying isolated. It means having to do all this along with our initial conditions that made us vulnerable in the first place. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone that wants congregate again – a lockdown can’t and shouldn’t go on forever – but I don’t think asking those that aren’t vulnerable to wear a mask when they’re around others to reduce the risk for people like myself is an undue burden (even locked down we still need to regularly go to the grocery store and to the hospital for my cancer treatment).

    More than all that, I hope that as everyone gets back to going on with their lives that people like myself won’t get get forgotten and lost. It’s just something I’ve really been feeling lately.

  53. Pyrogolfer, I don’t know who you listen to, but the sources I have are remarkably consistent considering that this is a new virus that we really don’t know much about. Even the experts are learning as they go.

    And, snow is visible. You can see when you need to slow down. And except for people in San Antonio, we all have experience with snow. This virus is new and even the experts have no prior experience with it. My sister in law had exactly your attitude a week ago. She wasn’t going to let any “exaggerated news media hype” change her behavior. Today, she is very sick with Covid because there was no visible “snow,” only black ice and she refused to listen when the weather man said, driving conditions could be bad and she didn’t read the sign that said there might be ice on the bridge and put the sign together with the cold and wet and think “danger.” She was so sure because she has been driving this stretch and never had a problem before. I told my husband to quit visiting her because I could see she was not paying attention to the dangers. It was kinda hard not so say, “I told you so.” Someone I know has died from this and someone I love is very sick, so, I am taking this seriously.

    And I still do not see any argument from you that doesn’t boil down to you refusing to take the virus seriously because ??? You don’t want it to be real? You don’t want to feel vulnerable? You would rather act tough? You don’t want to be inconvenienced by taking precautions?

    And if you don’t like to be called selfish, then quit being selfish. Show a bit Of compassion to high risk people, some of whom are terrified of this disease.

    Me, I think I have had it, but I still take precautions, even though they are inconvenient, because I am not sure because when I got sick, they were only testing people who were sick enough to go to the hospital. But, without more evidence, I am going to take the safest actions, because I care about other people. Instead of your approach that seems to be, “without enough evidence I am going to do what I want.“

  54. Brian, that was a sarcasm. The church could and should hire pros to clean the buildings just like the do for construction and building maintenance.

  55. I do think this is the time to revisit professional cleanings for our ward buildings. I don’t know how much money the church has, but if it’s anywhere remotely close to the recently reported figures, we should hire teams of properly trained professionals for this now life-and-deathly serious task. Or, we could train people from our faith community who need the jobs, and then pay them well. In every ward I’ve ever lived in since the church stepped away from professional custodians, the same handful of families has done all the cleaning, and they’re the same ones who do everything else. The gravity of cleaning and sterilizing in this new reality is too much to ask already-exhausted members to manage.

  56. And it would provide jobs for cleaning professionals. It’s the least that should be done.

  57. is someone who chooses to slow to 20 mph somehow more virtuous than someone who slows to 35 mph?

    As always, and as you already noted, it depends on the conditions. That’s it. Some precautions make intuitive sense—like slowing down when visibility drops—while others may not; maybe wearing masks is one such example. In the cases where one’s gut isn’t a great guide—perhaps the emergence of a novel disease is one such case—it makes sense to continuously consult and evaluate other sources of information.

    Anyway, if “rational” dialogue is your aim, consider your own choices: It may not be the case that your countrymen are “blindly” following government restrictions or that the “‘best'” doctors are “spewing” information.

  58. It would be nice to have “professional” cleaners in our buildings but in my area (SLC) I don’t think there is any way the church could find enough people to hire. Even in the pandemic it is difficult to hire people for this type of work and the large number of buildings, potentially needing to be cleaned multiple times each Sunday would require an army of labor that is just not available here. I am also not really understanding what it is about cleaning surfaces that requires a “professional”. It is not a high level skill, just requires supplies.

  59. Going Back to Church in and of itself is beyond the scope of 2 steps of conformity of wearing a face mask and silencing singing.

    After more than 60 plus days of required stay at home CDC guidelines, there is still no vaccine, treatment or cure for COVID-19. There are far more things to consider, even outside of an individual desire to return to church; for the greater good of administering essential ordinances and necessary functions required for any others, for baptisms and confirmation, setting apart, priesthood blessings, administering to the sick.

    Area and local leaders should have or will need to consider the management of any number greater than 10 to attend and the condition that social distancing places on mitigating a limited number of rows and seats to best manage those attending, while trying to then assure proper sanitizing of the entire spaces and comply with cleaning used areas before another group can enter, is beyond comprehension and daunting for any shared buildings holding multiple Ward meetings.

    I have come to the realization that returning to church of and within the concept of things being as they were isn’t necessary for me and for some shouldn’t be considered at all; not for fear of spread of COVID-19 but for fact that I have become accustomed to a different way of doing things and I’m ok with that.

    This platform serves as an example what will happen in reality, there will be a divide of mask wearers and those that don’t, there will be a potential of lines and waiting and questions that won’t get answers. Administration of the Sacrament during COVID-19 has caused disparity for lack of access for those without a priesthood holder in their home and returning to church will again cause to disrupt and further expose areas of vulnerability that shouldn’t be ignored.

    Before we as individuals take any steps to return we should take steps to understanding what’s essentially important within The Plan of Salvation for ourselves and others and possibly all should be compelled to let those with essential needs go there, period. Any who require to be baptized, set apart, be interviewed or for any reason whereas it requires in person administration for them. let them go there, safely and responsibly. the time between now and when/if there is a cure, treatment or vaccine made available; we should allow for all efforts to lessen the disparity of the lease of which have been disengaged, inactive, under-served to have and gain access to what others/may take for granted by privilege or authority not prevailed to them. Others should be encouraging and be supportive and conform to staying at home for however long it takes, as their access and privilege are not made less; its others that are the least of those to have access and privilege of priesthood holder in home, aged, ill, new converts all having needs greater than yours as a simple yet no less measured desire to return there. Why, what are you in need of that is essential and not afforded you already, beyond returning to church?

    When and unless we can see ministering and the need of others as being greater than our own, in how and by what means of any numbered steps to return to church, are any humbled to be there at all, masked and silenced from singing beyond 2 steps.

  60. Wondering says:

    E, Appropriate cleaning does not just require supplies. It also requires a willingness and determination to actually do the work properly. In our building we have repeatedly seen a very significant lack of the latter on the part of three wards over several years. Some people can only be motivated to do a job right if they have the threat of being fired for failure to do so.

  61. Wondering, yes you are right about that!

  62. I can’t imagine the leaders of this church agreeing to pay for cleaners to work on a Sunday. I also wouldn’t trust well meaning ward members to do a thorough job. I’ve helped clean the building too often in my ward and have seen the variations of what cleaning means to different people. Honestly, even if a miracle occurred I’m not sure how much I’d trust a professional crew that wasn’t monitored by someone picky. Even pro’s get lazy.

  63. Wayfaring Stranger says:

    I’m grateful to live in the stake that I do. Our stake president got COVID-19 at the beginning of April and we nearly lost him. He sent all members of the stake 12 and older an email this past Saturday stating that we’ll continue to do home church until he, his counselors and the bishops can come up with a way to keep the buildings clean and disinfected and to come up with a way to do the sacrament without spreading the virus. He also stated in very strong terms that members of our stake were required to wear masks to participate in church services. Those refusing to do so would be sent home to get a mask. This was backed up with scripture about caring for the least of our brothers and sisters as well as bearing each other’s burdens. I’m so thankful for a thoughtful leader who has our best interests at heart. This SP is quite new to the job. If our former SP had been in charge the results would’ve been very different and possibly deadly.

  64. No masks at church for me or my family.
    First, it would be creepy to see a sparsely populated chapel with half recognizable people cowering behind face masks.
    Second, if that is the only way to keep everyone safe, it’s not safe enough to be there and we’ll continue to enjoy home church (which has been wonderful).
    Third and most importantly to me, I just really don’t want to see the inevitable clash between the masked and maskless. Many of the masked will be looking down their noses at the hapless fox news, gun totin’ rubes who just aren’t educated enough to know the critical importance of wearing a mask. And the maskless will be looking down their noses at the poor, brainwashed, leftist, big government control freaks who always think they know more than anyone else and who find such joy in controlling others.
    No thanks. We’ll wait a year or two or five or whatever.

  65. I’m not sure I should respond to a troll, but here goes: Those of us who wear masks aren’t cowering; we’re merely trying to protect others and, to a much lesser extent, ourselves. And there’s an easy way to prevent a clash between the masked and the maskless: Require their use. It’s that simple.

  66. Our ward is planning on requiring masks. Fred, it seems, will not be in the congregation.

  67. Eric, Sorry if my post sounded like trolling. it wasn’t meant to. I just wanted to let my true and unfiltered feeling be known. Reading back over my post, I can see how it does sound pretty harsh. It honestly wasn’t meant to.

  68. OK, Fred, I’ll withdraw the label I gave you. Take care.

  69. And you and and Brian are right…the simple solution is to require them. Folks who see it like me can stay home and folks who feel comfortable worshiping in masks can attend. Problem solved.

  70. Kristine says:

    FT-LT, I know it seems trite and you weren’t asking for sympathy, but I’m sorry to hear of your illness, and glad you have found a treatment that is working. I hope you and your ward members will be able to find ways to connect without endangering your health.

  71. east of the mississippi says:

    I’ll gladly wear a mask… forever if needed… if they dump the white shirts and ties.

  72. Priesthood holders who wear masks will be expected to conform to the unwritten standard of white or a conservative dark blue, while sisters will have a wider selection of pastels or floral prints, but only if they are sewn at home.

  73. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    That’s an excellent point, Mark. Many face masks are gender neutral, but the Church would surely prefer that, since much of the face will now be obscured, a person’s gender is immediately discernible by a quick scan. If men are instructed to wear white face masks it will make it easier for SS teachers to avoid calling on the pastels for comments during lessons.

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