Gathering Spaces: The Data

Photo by Crissy Jarvis on Unsplash

This summer has been one of renewal.

As we have gathered together again to pray, praise God, and proclaim the resurrection I have rejoiced in our gathering. Personally, hearing God’s people sing again has been a great source of rejoicing. Despite our renewal, however, we are not completely “out of the woods” and have taken steps to mitigate the spread of disease as the Delta variant of Covid rips through our community.

You may wonder, how do we assess risks and make decisions about the form of worship services, space usage, and personal behavior? As we have walked through this pandemic I and the rest of the staff have relied heavily on guidance from the CDC as well as this website to help make good determinations for how to be in our space during worship. Here, I’ll walk through the data I’ve recently plugged into this website and the results it gives.

General Info

First we work with some general information. You’ll see room specifications and human behavior are listed as custom; we’ll drill down into that in a bit. I have leaned toward a lower tolerance for risk and toward the higher end of the age groups listed. I have selected the Delta strain of the virus and input the percent of the population of Lancaster County listed as vaccinated on covidactnow.org.

Next, I input the most recent data for cases per 100k (again from covidactnow.org).

Room Data

Next up are the room details. I’ve made some assumptions here because I’m not privy to the EXACT details. If you are more in the know, please let me know. After stepping off the room and some back-of-the-napkin calculations I get the floor area of the sanctuary to be about 7000 sq. ft. and the ceiling looks to be about 40 feet high.

Human Behavior

Last, I input the human behavior in our sanctuary space. We’re singing, largely wearing cotton masks that as a general rule don’t have the best fit over our faces. This isn’t a criticism; it’s merely pragmatic. Personally, I have plenty of cotton masks that don’t really fit tightly across my cheeks and I assume many of us would find the same.

Results

After inputing all this information, the calculator goes to work and spits out a bunch of numbers. The number which has been most useful to me and the rest of the staff has been the number of people for 1 hour that you see about 2/3rds of the way down the image. The result as calculated here implies that were 177 people to spend MORE than an hour together in this room, with this behavior, in a community with this prevalence of infection, the risks are greater than what we asked for.

As the numbers have changed, so have our responses to keep our community safe. Of note, a low prevalence of infection coupled with a high rate of vaccination have been instrumental in reducing the risks associated with gathering for church. The Delta variant is a setback, but we’re finding that a lot of the activities we have been engaging in are reasonable, especially when people wear masks.

As I wrote earlier, if you see any goofs in here, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. I love working with correct data and I fully recognize that I made a few assumptions here. I haven’t been able to find the right places to get exact numbers for everything and would appreciate having a clearer picture going forward.

Peace to you all and please make good decisions about staying safe!

Dr. Adam Lefever Hughes

Director of Music

As the Director of Music, I help the St. Peter’s community proclaim the gospel story and share the goodness of God through worship and music.

5 comments

  1. Adam;
    I input your data on room size into the same website, utilizing moderate exercise (as I was unable to find singing with mask as an option).

    I made a few changes to the parameters used to see how the numbers of people who could safely gather might also change.

    I changed the age group to 16-64 from your presumed elderly.
    I have found that those over the age of 64 have a higher vaccination rate than those who are younger.

    I changed the mask type to disposable surgical (from cotton) as most people now have access to a surgical mask if they wish to have one. If the church wished to make disposable surgical masks required for church participation, they are certainly available and affordable.

    I changed the mask fit from your poor to good. A good fit for a surgical mask simply means that it completely covers the nose and mouth and is pinched around the nose when it is worn without a beard. Given that most men don’t wear facial hair, and no women to my knowledge have facial hair, I thought that was appropriate.

    I changed the risk tolerance from your 0.1 to 0.33 on the scale in which 0.1 is considered entirely safe and 1.0 is considered entirely unsafe. As we have moved from hysteria about this virus to a more nuanced understanding of the risks, I have seen people gathering publicly inside again. I have seen inside restaurant usage increase again. While I choose to wear a mask to shop at Stauffer’s, I’m only seeing about 10% of the customers similarly garbed.

    My results were that greater than 777 people would be able to be in the church space (St. Peter’s) for 2 hours at those parameters.

    Those of us who wanted to be vaccinated have been. I finished my vaccination schedule back in March of this year and the rest of my family in May.
    Those of us who do not want to be vaccinated have not been. They may decide to receive a vaccination at some later date, (as I fervently hope they do), but how we behave in church is not going to be the impetus that changes their behavior.

    As a medical professional, I have a duty to “do no harm”.
    When I enter a patient’s home, I wear a mask and ensure that I have clean hands and use clean technique with by bag and tools.

    Churches have a different duty. It is to care for everyone. It is to be a home for the poor, and the poor of spirit.

    Jesus wasn’t scared of the leper.
    Christians don’t fear death. Death has no command over us, because of Jesus’ sacrifice.
    We are Lutheran Christians.
    Let’s open up the church for full worship.
    Singing is a fundamental part of worship or of many communal gatherings amongst human beings.
    Those who wish to come may come.
    Those who wish to stay home, may stay home.
    But the church’s doors should be open.
    That’s the duty of the church.
    Feed my sheep.

    1. An interesting analysis, to be sure; thanks for offering it. Perhaps sometime we can have a conversation about it in person.

  2. Hi Adam;
    I’m grateful that you were willing to publish your methodology. I would be equally grateful for us to all be able to have a public conversation about this topic that concerns everyone associated with the St. Peter’s community.

    I don’t think I’m right and I don’t think you’re wrong. One of the benefits of being a Christian is that we recognize that we are often wrong, even when we are certain that we’re right.
    It’s only through public discussion that we might come to a compromise that is acceptable to all parties. St. Peter’s would benefit from such a discussion, I think.

    It’s been a long year. Trust has often fractured or withered where once it was strong.

    One of the aspects of life, with which we have become all too familiar, is that there is risk to every event and activity. We can stop ever leaving the home and be entirely safe, but then you might as well be in a prison of your own making.

    Blessings on your day, Adam.

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