The UKirk National Board is keenly aware that as colleges and universities begin this Fall, our network ministries are working to embody their love of God and neighbor by slowing the spread of COVID-19. At UKirk, living out our faith calls us to love our neighbors. It also calls us to heed the wisdom of science, and listen to public health experts as we discern how to live out our mission in the campus community.
As you make decisions for the coming year, do not try to replicate the normal semester. The invitation for us now is to discover how we can best mitigate the spread of the virus, keep our communities safe, and support students in the midst of this. We understand that each school has developed policies for their particular campus community. In addition, we would like to encourage all UKirk network ministries to follow the UKirk National guidelines set forth in this document as they navigate the ever-changing situations they may find themselves facing this year.
Pay attention. Seek out your local County and State Health Department’s guidelines. They are likely to have dashboards and information to help you assess the risk in your particular area, and will help provide guidance and statistics about the spread of the virus in your community. The World Health Organization recommends that positive infection rates in your area need to be below 5% for at least 2 weeks before considering in-person events. County health officials have that information, and will offer guidance as to the number of people you can responsibly gather (preferably outside) to diminish the spread of the virus.
Find reputable sources. Often there are questions about which news sources are reputable. John Hopkins, the CDC, New York Times, COVID dashboards and the Covid Act Now websites are widely used as credible references. They all have tools that allow you to search your particular state, county and zip code and are widely used by governmental, corporate and nonprofit organizations to assess risk. Find resources you trust, and share them with your students and colleagues as they also search for trustworthy sources.
Model good practices. Encourage hand-washing, social distancing and mask wearing. Always wear a mask and have your student leaders model appropriate protocols. Have all that attend your events wear masks, and keep some for purchase (or for free) to give those who show up without one. If you provide food, have meals pre-packaged into individual containers and purchase pre-packaged snacks. Refrain from hugging, high-fives, handshakes, and other contact for the time being.
Get student buy-in. Educate your leadership team about the best practices suggested by your local and state health officials, and seek their input in decisions ranging from how you will meet (socially distanced outside, virtually, socially distanced 1-1, etc), what your group will do in inclement weather if you decide to meet in-person outdoors, and why your team has made the decisions they have made (theologically and organizationally). If there is not agreement among the team, encourage your group to err on the side of caution in making decisions. It is difficult to go back to stricter guidelines once protocols have been opened up. Here are some example guidelines from The College of William & Mary:
- All “business” or leadership meetings will be virtual.
- Host outdoor events once every thirty days and all other programs virtually.
- Students (and employees) cannot share a vehicle if they are not roommates or family.
- For small groups, the magic number is 4-5, no larger than 6.
- Schedule both “virtual” times and limited, scheduled times for in-person office hours.
- No outside gathering of more than ____, to keep in line with state guidelines.
Develop a contact-tracing strategy. When students arrive at an event, the person in charge should greet them, take their name (a Google Doc on your phone is good, or just a clipboard and paper), screen them for any symptoms, and tell them the procedures for which restroom they can use, where to sit, etc. If your ministry has a no-contact thermometer, you can also screen each attendee for fever. If the students can register ahead of time online or via social media, this can help with organizing the event and they can self-screen. Students should stay in/home if their temperature is 100.4 or higher, they have new COVID-19 symptoms, are awaiting results from a coronavirus test, or have tested positive and have not been officially cleared to discontinue isolation. Ask students to bring their own blankets or chairs to the event, as well as water bottles/drinks. If students show symptoms or receive a positive COVID test within two weeks of attending your event, tell them to inform the appropriate authorities and the campus minister, so others from the event can be notified and advised to seek guidance on testing and quarantining from the university.
In case of a positive test, advise all attendees with symptoms of COVID-19 or who have tested positive for COVID-19 not to return to the facility or any in-person gatherings (even outside) until they have met CDC’s criteria to discontinue home isolation. Remind them of the university’s protocols in regards to quarantine, healthcare, getting meals, notifying professors, leaving campus (to go home), etc. Find ways to support the student safely via text or social media, delivering care packages without contact, and with prayer (with the larger group if they give permission). Providing pastoral care will depend on how the student reacts, as some may believe it is no big deal to receive a positive test, while others may feel guilty or confused as to why this happened when they did everything “right.”
Plan and train for cleaning procedures. Take steps to minimize community sharing of worship materials and other items, and intensify cleaning and disinfection of the area after each event. If it is possible, train a team of students (and other leaders) who can learn the proper way to sanitize the area who will be in charge after every event. Some find it helpful to have a portable bag of some sort with the disinfectant, paper towels, gloves, masks and other items needed.
Promote and market your decisions. Once your team has made the policy decisions, post your protocols and policies on your website, social media accounts, and around your building (if you have one). Promote and market not only what your group is doing, but also encouragement to follow the guidelines from your school, local health officials, and the CDC. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Your practices may differ from other organizations in your area, and there will often be pressure to “open up” inside worship, in-person small groups, or other programs “back to the way they were last Fall.” We all crave normalcy, and it is tiring to live so mindfully when all you want to do is just ignore the very real virus and go back to “normal.” Parties. Football games. Classes. Life. Give your students (and colleagues) a space to process their grief and longing. Then remind them why your ministry is embodying the gospel in these particular ways that are grounded in both science and scripture.