Dear First Church Members and Friends:
There are many conflicting and confusing messages about how to respond to the continuing COVID-19 public health crisis. We are basing our First Church decisions about when to return to the building, in-person operations, and worship on public health recommendations, science, and the locally-specific Wisconsin Badger Bounce Back plan, which you can find on the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website here: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/publications/p02653a.pdf.
We realize Wisconsin is in a state of legal flux right now, and there is conflicting advice on what to do. At First Church, human life, health, and wellness remain our highest priority, and we are making choices based on keeping our members, friends, and the community safe and well. We will move more cautiously because of this priority, which is in line with our Unitarian Universalist principles and First Church values. Additionally, our congregation’s demographics include a larger than average number of people at higher risk.
The Badger Bounce Back (BBB) plan includes three phases to move from “Safer at Home” to unrestricted business as usual. To enter phase one, and each subsequent phase, Wisconsin must pass certain tests (“Gating Criteria”) and have accomplished certain requirements (“Core Responsibilities”). According to the plan, Wisconsin public health officials will re-evaluate phase two and three Criteria and Responsibilities once we’re into phase one. While the Wisconsin legislature and Governor negotiate to determine how and if to follow it, First Church will use the plan as a blueprint for decision-making. Please see a summary of the criteria and requirements at the end of this email.
First Church will meet online-only through the summer, as it is unlikely this BBB plan criteria will be met quickly, and it would be challenging to change our First Church processes in the middle of the summer.
We will re-evaluate the situation in the fall, based on science and public health recommendations. While we cannot predict the future, we want our members to be prepared that it may not be safe to meet in person for worship until there is a vaccine for COVID-19. All evidence points to this being a long-term situation. Further, in the BBB plan, groups of over 50 will not be able to safely meet until Phase Three. Our Sunday morning worship and activities qualify as a large group, and will not be able to meet safely until the latest stage of the plan.
On Thursday May 14, the Unitarian Universalist Association shared a message from UUA President, the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, recommending congregations prepare to hold worship online through May 2021. At First Church, we will be thrilled if we can safely meet in person before then, but we just don’t know yet.
As the scientific community learns more and communicates new understandings, we will adapt and respond to that information as it comes. With reason and love as our guides, we will keep you informed.
With love and care,
Jennifer Nordstrom, Senior Minister
Mark Bender, Congregational President
First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee
Summary of the Badger Bounce Back plans Gating Criteria and Core Responsibilities
To move from Safer at Home to Phase One of the BBB plan, all Gating Criteria and Core Responsibilities must be met. According to the plan, Wisconsin public health officials will re-evaluate the Gating Criteria and Core Responsibilities for each subsequent phase.
The Gating Criteria to move to Phase One is a 14-day downward trajectory in:
- Reported cases of illnesses with flu-like symptoms;
- Reported cases of COVID-19 symptoms; and
- Positive COVID-19 test cases.
The other Gating Criteria are:
- All hospitals are able to treat patients without crisis care;
- Robust testing is in place for health-care workers; and
- There are decreasing numbers of healthcare workers infected with COVID-19.
The Core Responsibilities of the State of Wisconsin are:
- Testing: Every Wisconsin resident who has symptoms of COVID-19 can get a lab test. Results will be reported to the patient and state or local public health within 48 hours of collection. To achieve this, the WI state goal is 85,000 tests/week or approximately 12,000 tests/day.
- Tracing: A system for contact tracing, including standard protocol and data management, will be created; and a contact tracing workforce will be hired, trained, and deployed.
- Tracking: Wisconsin will track the spread of the disease and report on the Wisconsin Gating Criteria and other related metrics to keep everyone informed about how we are doing. This data will be publicly available on a dashboard.