Understanding our Decision to meet Online Only
Updated December 30: As it turns out, our careful consideration about this decision was overridden anyway by the needs of our facility host, Prairie Homestead Senior Living. Due to the number of Covid cases they are currently experiencing, the main building is restricted with regards to outside visitors. We would have needed to shift to online worship in any case; but we still feel it is helpful to share the following information about how and why we made this decision.
Our fervent prayer is that what we are beginning to hear from the medical community is true: that the Omicron variant of Covid, while extremely contagious, will be significantly less harmful. Those who are able to be vaccinated and boosted are still seeing very low rates of infection, and even lower rates of severe illness and hospitalization. We are thankful to have such a supportive congregation in terms of your commitment to wearing masks and completing a weekly Covid screening to attend in-person worship. We do believe our in-person gatherings have been as safe as reasonably possible.
Hospitals in Wichita (and throughout Kansas) are now at critical capacity and expected to get worse. This concern isn't only related to Covid cases and care, but any need for emergency care. Capacity is also affected at every care level; for example, nursing homes can't accept more Covid patients, so people who should be discharged get stuck in hospitals, which means fewer beds are free, etc. Kansas is still dealing primarily with Delta (less contagious but more harmful), but now seeing a fast rise in Omicron (less harmful but so much more contagious that there will still be an increased hospitalization burden). Hospitalization rates have been rising very quickly over the past week, almost exclusively among those who are not vaccinated or boosted for Covid. Flu and RSV are also now growing at the same time.
Typically, our attendance in worship is lower than average for the first two Sundays in January. The first service of 2022 comes on the heels of another holiday, and after a night when temperatures are predicted to be severely freezing (below 0 degrees F). We asked ourselves, is it really worth it to potentially spread a very contagious variant of Covid, especially in a nursing home... right after people have been doing a lot of traveling and visiting, and right before school resumes... sending people outdoors in dangerously low temperatures... just so that a small group can meet for church in person? Especially when those same people have access to our online options? When we considered all of these options together, the board easily came to a unanimous decision to move to online services for two weeks.
After January 9 we should know much more about how quickly this Omicron wave will move, and by Jan. 16 we hope for a clear sense about whether it will be safe to resume in-person services. We will continue to keep the community updated about worship plans as we move forward.
For those who are interested in more specifics, here are some of the resources we referenced in our decision-making:
- According to the Sedgwick County Health Department Covid-19 dashboard, hospital capacity is at critical levels. It started happening just before Christmas, and is only expected to worsen. This is true throughout Kansas, not just in Wichita. (The dashboard tool can be a bit slow to load, and then you have to click on the hospitalizations tab at the bottom.)
- Only half of Sedgwick county residents are vaccinated for Covid, and only 1/3 are boosted. Our church rates are higher but not 100%.
- Emergency wait times and transfers in hospitals are becoming more difficult (see for example this article in the Hutchinson Post.
- Dr. Chloe Steinshouer, a pulmonary physician with Wesley medical center, shared this insider perspective on Facebook, dated Dec. 27. While it's not "official" reporting or data, it gives us a picture of what our local medical community is actually experiencing.
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Excepts from the Facebook post are shared here for those who do not use Facebook:
Like many places in the US, we’re in trouble.
The hospitals are already overwhelmed. We’ve been working at the brink for weeks. Shortages of staff are limiting patient care. Physicians, nurses, RTs, APPs, pharmacists, techs, case managers, lab staff, therapists, EVS, dietary… they’re all understaffed. And there is no calvary coming to help like there was last winter. We’re exhausted and overloaded. People wait hours to be seen and days in the ED to be admitted. There isn’t enough medicine or equipment to take care of everyone. We are most limited by our scarcest resource: capable and trained staff.
The hospital has >50% of the ICU beds and >20% of the floor beds filled with COVID patients. Only ~1/35 is vaccinated. That means 97% of our patients are unvaccinated. They are young, often previously healthy, and unbelievably critically ill. Hospitalizations are mostly preventable at this point for vaccinated individuals. But patients continue to flow in, unabated.
The difference between now and a year ago? We had help. We had more staff and more support. Healthcare workers from around the country could redeploy to our area. They’re stuck working in their home bases now. Our communities also helped protect us. People wore masks and tried to minimize infection. Now, our communities have moved on as though the pandemic is over. It’s not. It’s as bad or worse than it’s ever been. Add in Influenza and RSV (both in the community) and we have additional burdens on the system.
Last year in the US, there was 1 critical care physician for every 25000 people. Wichita’s ratio is worse than the national average. The number of ICU physicians is dropping rapidly as the burnout rate increases and fewer young physicians join the field. Please help us. Wear a mask. Get tested if you have symptoms or are exposed. Quarantine and isolate to stop the spread. Pay attention to symptoms and GET TESTED EARLY. Get vaccinated and get boosted (if you’re eligible). Need a vaccine? Check out https://www.vaccines.gov.