By Jamie Aten and Kent Annan
Nearly six months into the global pandemic pastors continue to face difficult decisions about when and how to meet safely together.
Last spring the RAND Corporation, a company committed to improving public policy and decision making through research and analysis, released a new tool to help policy makers deciding when it will be safe to reopen entities that have been limited or shut down in service of public health.
Though this helpful tool was designed to inform policy makers it can also be used to guide COVID-19 related safety intervention strategies.
Specifically, this tool can help pastors better understand the possible outcomes of when to reduce current restrictions and how to reduce current restrictions.
Here’s how it works: When someone uses the tool RAND has provided, the user begins by selecting the state in which he or she lives.
In a brief accessible “health” report, the tool reports the trajectory of daily fatalities, those currently hospitalized, ICU usage, and daily confirmed cases within the state.
It then offers an “economic” report that charts the number of people filing initial unemployment claims and those receiving unemployment insurance.
Next, the tool allows the user to view projections by selecting from two factors: intervention level (1-5) and the start date for the proposed intervention. Intervention levels are defined as follows:
- No interventions: No intervention and no reduction in activity.
- Level 1: Close schools.
- Level 2: Close schools, bars, and restaurants; and ban large events.
- Level 3: Close schools, bars, and restaurants; ban large events; and close nonessential businesses.
- Level 4: Close schools, bars, and restaurants; ban large events; close nonessential businesses; and issue a shelter-in-place order for the most vulnerable.
- Level 5: Close schools, bars, and restaurants; ban large events; close nonessential businesses; and issue a shelter-in-place order for everyone but essential workers.
Granted the policy to pastor fit isn’t perfect—your church doesn’t have a bar—but the community you live in probably does, and your church is part of the community.
When a user selects an intervention level and a start date, the tool produces a health projection and an economic projection.
The health projection anticipates likely fatalities, ICU bed demand, regular hospital bed demand, and confirmed cases of those infected with COVID-19.
The economic projection anticipates losses in gross state income. It also offers other considerations for decision makers—for each of the various mitigation measures—that includes barriers to implementation, costs of implementation, cultural and social barriers, economic cost, impact on equity, impact on social well-being, and political barriers.
As church leaders thoughtfully and prayerfully decide when and how to welcome their members back into the communal life of the church, these additional considerations—such as social well-being—will be particularly useful.
In states eager to loosen restrictions as quickly as possible, this tool offers valuable data to congregations who may choose to continue restrictions for the good of both their members and the community.
Church leaders who are clear on their guiding principles and motivations will benefit greatly from this accessible tool that helps them see the likely outcome of the decisions they’re making today and will continue to be making for the foreseeable future.
KENT ANNAN, M.Div. (@kentannan), is director of Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership at Wheaton College. He is author of Slow Kingdom Coming and After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World Is Shaken. Follow him online at kentannan.com.