My heart sank when I saw the new cases of COVID-19 in Arizona on Tuesday morning. 3,434 cases in a single day. One more notch in making the curve of new cases increase. Looking at the epi-curve of case counts in Arizona, we are now in the same place we were in mid-June.
Our churches are in a different place than they were in mid-June. We were firmly in Phase I then, and our public worship was all online. Now many of our congregations are gathering for in-person worship under the Phase II guidelines. Some congregations, noting the rise in cases, are choosing to transition back to online worship. Others are continuing in person under the Phase II guidelines.
It is not my intention to pull us back to Phase I as a diocese unless the State of Arizona restricts public gatherings again, or we begin to see that our churches are sites for virus transmission. If either of those occur, it is possible we might move back to Phase I. I want to remind you, however, that because Phase I now includes outdoor worship, even if we were forced to move back to Phase I, our congregations could still continue to worship together outdoors.
It is not necessarily safe to continue as we are. I encourage all of our congregations to move their worship outdoors if at all possible. That is the safest option for worship.
If that is not possible, abbreviate your services indoors. Limit the amount of time the congregation spends inside, and ventilate your space as much as possible.
And pay attention to the case counts in your county. Right now, Graham, Coconino, and Gila counties have much higher rates of the virus than most other counties. Congregations in those counties in particular may find it wise to move outdoors or online again.
Wear a mask. Love your neighbor. Limit your activities. Pray for an effective vaccine that is available to all as soon as possible. This will end, but it will not be soon, and we value the lives of our members and our communities, our health care workers, and those who are most vulnerable to this virus.