[AMENDED] Proposed AIW - Centering Love Amidst the Ongoing Impact of COVID-19

Primary Proposer: Meghan Garvey of the First Unitarian Church of Rochester
Additional Proposers: CB Beal, Rev. AJ van Tine & Rev. Sarah Caine

Whereas, the emergency declaration for COVID-19 was terminated in 2023 without
sufficient strategies in place to manage the persistent challenges of the virus,
exacerbating its disproportionate impact on marginalized groups (i.e., disabled,
uninsured and underinsured, incarcerated, BIPOC, LGBTQIA, older adults and youth,
especially those of intersecting identities); and

Whereas, the current U.S. governmental approach to COVID-19 management still
jeopardizes the lives of higher-risk individuals and leaves many unknowingly susceptible
to the potential long-term impacts of COVID-19 infections; and

Whereas, the aforementioned governmental approach is creating a continuously
growing void in COVID-19 information and management, exemplified by the
discontinuation of data collection processes and vital public health interventions (i.e.,
dependable testing, access to vaccines and treatment, prevention and harm reduction
education) and the limited support for Long COVID research; and

Whereas, the current political climate increasingly fosters disregard and even hostility
towards individuals still exercising COVID caution, resulting in growing social and legal
pressures to remove masks from public life and forcing higher-risk individuals to choose
between essential participation in public life or avoiding COVID-19 infections; and

Whereas, our faith proclamations of love and justice call us to confront the ongoing
disregard for those most vulnerable in our world and meet it with liberating
counter-cultural norms in our communities; and

Whereas, in the current political, economic, and environmental climate, the importance
of inclusion and living into communal interdependence is of the utmost life-saving
importance; and

Whereas, in the absence of an appropriate governmental response to the ongoing risks
of COVID-19, grassroots organizations and nonprofit organizations are leading efforts
for the continuation of protective measures in the U.S.;

Therefore, be it resolved that the 2024 General Assembly calls for:

Congregational & Member Organization Action

● To communally examine and process the impact of the pandemic on our
communities, particularly any urgency we’ve experienced to relinquish COVID-19
protocols for the sake of returning to “normal.” Unitarian Universalists hold a
sacred tradition of questioning the status quo, and it is in that tradition that we
must reflect on what “normal” we long to sustain. Given the lessons our
communities learned living into the 2021 Action of Immediate Witness “The
COVID-19 Pandemic: Justice. Healing. Courage”, particularly how we learned to
include those who were already experiencing isolation and exclusion from our
communities in a 2019 version of “normal,” we are called to reflect upon any
barriers keeping us from holding onto the pandemic-induced community care
practices which so effectively countered isolation and fostered radical inclusion.

● To build off of the aforementioned community reflections and recommit to making
our spaces accessible for our congregational/member organization participants
and staff who are higher-risk, otherwise identify as COVID-cautious or were
already experiencing isolation and exclusion from our communities in a 2019
version of “normal.” While the wording of this AIW intentionally leaves flexibility
for communities to adopt practices that make the most sense for the particular
(likely complex and possibly competing) accessibility needs of their communities,
at minimum, this AIW is asking communities for:

  • continuing the shift to mask-affirming culture
  • openness to experimenting with different community-created gathering
    approaches to maximize access for all, centering the needs of higher-risk,
    disabled, and otherwise COVID-cautious people in the decision-making
    processes
  • protocols to ensure that congregational/member group participants and
    staff can refrain from attending in-person events while they are
    experiencing symptoms of acute illness or have been recently ill
  • moves toward meeting the ventilation and filtration standards consistent
    with the scientific standard laid out in ASHRAE 241 Control of Infectious
    Aerosols (as financially possible)

Congregations and member organizations are additionally asked to carefully
reconsider their community’s potential need for the adoption of additional disease
transmission precautions, including, but not limited to, two-way masking practices
and social distancing practices. If, in adopting any updated practices, a
community chooses to integrate masking requirements, such requirements
should include exceptions for people for whom mask-wearing is inaccessible and
ensure the availability of free masks for individuals for whom masking is
cost-prohibitive.

● To identify and work to form partnerships with local disability organizations
working on COVID-19 justice, and community-organized “mask blocs”.
Partnerships might include offering event space, plate offerings for supplies,
storage for their supplies, hosting their community stands, or supporting their
efforts to respond to local community and legislative challenges to COVID
caution.

Unitarian Universalist Association Action

● To create channels of support for congregations and member organizations in
brainstorming, implementing, and troubleshooting the aforementioned community
care and accessibility approaches while modeling such practices in
UUA-sponsored events and meetings.

● To work to form active partnerships with organizations leading the way in
COVID-19 policy advocacy so that Unitarian Universalists can get involved in this
work with accountability to the most-directly-impacted populations. This advocacy
may address, but not be limited to:

  • Contesting mask bans
  • Reinstating vital public health interventions (i.e., equitable access to
    vaccines and treatment and public health messaging reflective of the state
    of COVID science)
  • Improving hospital-based and community-based data collection processes
  • Clean air practices in healthcare and carceral settings
  • Funding for installation of air purifiers and improved ventilation in public
    spaces consistent with the scientific standard laid out in ASHRAE 241
    Control of Infectious Aerosols
  • Funding for Long COVID research and care resources

Update 6/14: The Proposer of this AIW agreed to some changes to the text received at the listening session. The text above has been altered to reflect any changes. Additionally you can view the revision history on any post by clicking on the pencil icon Screenshot 2023-06-12 at 12.29.36 PM found at the top right of the post.

Update 6/13/24: The Recording, Transcript, and Chat Transcript from the Feedback Session are available.

9 Likes

This is an important public-health issue that remains despite our wishes to return to the prepandemic normal. I am in favor of this AIW and its concrete actions and positions that we can take to keep ourselves and each other safe.

6 Likes

There is no need for this AIW.
It asks us to do things that are not part of our core mission. More importantly, none of the infectious disease experts we partner with (including a Rutger’s public health specialist and a member here) recommend this. They actually teach it is counterproductive to ask people to mask when it is not needed as it keeps people from masking when it is necessary. It is unkind to ask folks to mask when it is not necessary; and as a religious institution we should not be engaged in doing things for which there is no need; it seems phony.

At least we here have not rushed to return to normal. We have followed the advice of scientific experts who all say there is no need for this.

Of course masking should not be discouraged or stigmatized.
The time for this has passed, no? How would we do/staff/afford some of these action items?
This doesn’t seem to be in our core mission - and seems like an old fight.
But what do I know?

5 Likes

This AIW does not demand that anyone masks, it asks us to normalize masking for those who wish to mask for whatever reason or who have been advised to mask. I can only assume that Rev. Sammler-Michael is from a state and community that has not talked about making masking illegal. These discussions show us how political and anti-science this issue has become. Persons choosing to mask are being ridiculed and worse. As a retired public health professional I fully support this well written and documented AIW and believe strongly it is based on UU principles. While I applaud Rev. SM for his congregation not rushing to return to normal, I believe this AIW will spur many thoughtful discussions on the rights and inclusion of those among us without the means to protect themselves as well as those who are in occupations where exposure to harms of all sorts is a given. In the relief to be “done” with Covid it is easy for these discussions to not happen. I am also grateful to the proposers for introducing me to “mask blocs”. An important part of any AIW is to identify partners with whom our congregations can work.

9 Likes

I find myself a little confused by the language copied below, whether it is proposing that masks be required in congregational/member group activities, or simply encourages us to consider it OK for some to wear them while others do not. Perhaps the proponents could clarify their intent (especially, what is signified by “re-normalizing”). Understanding this distinction will help me decide whether to accept the perspective of RevScottSM or that of JanetPlanet.

Thanks all!

1 Like

Hi Rick, This is helpful! I can take this to our team to work on clarifying the language for the final draft. For now, I can definitely clarify that we are not requiring a return to all-out mask mandates. We are advocating for a return of mask-affirming culture in a time when so many people are experiencing pressure to unmask when it violates their personal safety needs. We left this language a bit open to interpretation intentionally so that congregations and member groups feel open to adopt this as it best fits their local needs, but are taking it under advisement that more clarity could be helpful.

3 Likes

As someone who still wears masks, I like a lot of this and would appreciate if masking was renormalized in congregations and other congregate spaces. However, as a poor disabled person, I am uncomfortable with specifically spelling out that high quality N95s etc are requested, rather than options like homemade reusable ones which are both much cheaper and better for the environment. (And which can be decent; two layers of cotton plus a layer of non-woven polypropylene can be as good as the surgical ones, even if that’s still 20% filtration lower than the fancy 95s.) I don’t think the note about exceptions when inaccessible is sufficient to address the class issue here.

You might also add a note about encouraging hand sanitizer use/offering it as a congregation when gathering, since that is still very key for COVID, but also for so many other illnesses.

2 Likes

Hi Frances, Thank you so much for uplifting this class issue oversight and the hand sanitizer practice! We will take these under advisement for the final draft.

4 Likes

More clarity is definitely needed. I would be able to vote for it if mask-affirming culture was clearer. That is what our congregation does and I don’t know of any problems arising. Thank you for your consideration.

1 Like

Okay, noted. Thank you, Lynn!

Thank you for this! I’m a covid cautious medical provider and disabled with multiple chemical sensitivity (I was masking before covid for that.) This kind of work helps me in so many ways as a provider, as a disabled person who routinely masks, and gives room for me to talk to people about using less toxic chemicals and fragrance free sanitizers and cleansers and air quality. Thank you!

5 Likes

I live in a state that has barely escaped having a law that criminalizes people who wear masks in public, even for health reasons. And the revised version of this law, which inflicts higher penalties for persons wearing a mask while breaking the law still makes it easy for police to target non-white protesters wearing masks and charge them with “crimes” when they exercise their first amendment rights. And my family is one of those who now have to seriously plan how to limit exposure to Covid, as the rest of society now makes it difficult to maintain public health practices–and some legislators even try to criminalize them.

Another reason why I think we need this AIW is that climate change increases the likelihood of another completely different pandemic, and we need to call for out government to continue to provide proactive access to vaccinations, tests, health care, and guaranteed income supplements that kick in when workers cannot work during a public health shut-down.

10 Likes

What are “mask blocs.” I haven’t seen this phrase before.

1 Like

Hi David, Mask blocs are mutual aid groups who provide free masks (and sometimes COVID tests and air purifiers) to their communities for free. To find out more about the mask bloc closest to you, you can visit the following link: Worldwide Mask Bloc Directory – Find your local Mask Bloc

5 Likes

Thank you, Meghan, for your work on this proposal. I find it to be consistent with the Generosity we as UUs will be asserting we value when the Article II amendments come up for votes later this month. I appreciate that you are utilizing suggestions to revise and clarify it, but please be sure to keep your submissions within whatever the ascribed deadlines are in order for it to be actively considered. Much frustration was expressed over inconsistencies in stated process when the Article II amendments were being discussed last year, and folks who missed unclear deadlines were understandably alienated by the whole process. Be diligent with your submission to assure its success, and you have my support.

1 Like

Hi Christine, I appreciate you raising these points. For transparency, our team is due to submit the final version to the CSW on Friday, 6.14. It is my understanding that the CSW will announce when the finalized texts of the AIWs get posted from there, but if I find out differently, I will be sure to post again. Thank you for your time and faithful consideration of this AIW!

1 Like

I spoke at the listening session: Leilani Davenberry, identifiers I use: she/her, middle aged, fat disabled light skinned BIPOC UU, a queer femme. I’m a delegate for Westside UU out here in Seattle on Coastal Salish People’s Land specifically the Duwamish People who are still here. I’m a covid cautious medical provider who routinely sees immune compromised patients and one of my disabilities means I was masking before the pandemic everywhere like church, grocery stories, movies etc and am still masking.

This AIW creates a place to talk about being inclusive and welcoming to those of us who still masking for a variety of reasons and my spouse is an indoor air quality expert and I feel this AIW creates a place to talk about risk mitigation and well buildings.

For example for a space to be accessible for me everyone would need to be fragrance free in the building, the soaps and sanitizers and cleansers would need to be unscented and the airpressure would need to be positive, the building not off gassing things like new carpet/paint, etc.

With regards to masking, there are so many ways to handle this - certain days or hours or activity everyone masks, hybrid options, a masked section, masks are encouraged but not required, and wearing masks in solidarity with others who must mask for a variety reasons.

I have been learning ASL for years to be more inclusive, and I routinely wear a mask with a clear panel for more inclusion of Deaf/HoH folks as needed and offer paper/written versions of what I’m saying. I’ve learned to sign using grammar of facial expression of my upper face if I’m masked from my Deaf ASL instructors.

I’m big yes on this AIW. Thank you so much for proposing this!

3 Likes

Our AIW proposal team is so appreciative for all the feedback we’ve received here and during this evening’s listening session! We will be making revisions tomorrow and turning in a final version reflective of this input to the CSW for re-posting. Thanks to all for your time and energy in this process!

In love and faith,

Meghan, CB, Rev. Sarah & Rev. AJ

3 Likes

I am concerned with the lack of any science-based discussion on COVID-19. Infections are up, mortality is way down. The predominant form of the virus is omicron, and “omicron babies” all of which are very mild compared to variants alpha and delta. Decisions by states, companies, municiplaities and the CDC are that COVID-19 in its current form is not more dangerous than the flu. Sometimes we take a position because of identity politics. Masks became a political hot-button during the pandemic (I was yelled at on the street for wearing a mask). But identity politics is not a good reason to create a policy. The policity should continue to be acceptance, not mandate.

Where do you read mask mandate in the AIW? The only place I see it is in health care and carceral settings and yes that completely makes sense to me as I’m a medical provider.

I love normalize and solidarity masking (that doesn’t mean or say mandate.) I mask pretty much all the time but there are times I don’t have to but will because someone else there is masked and they’ve all told me that me masking makes it easier for them to mask (as they have to.) We’re having a houseguest tomorrow so we all discussed risk mitigation strategies as how we were going to care about and for each other. This is normalizing even though we’re not going to constantly mask - we talked about it and made a decision together - that’s what I read in the AIW is caring for each other and how this affects people still.