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  • May26Tue

    To open or not to open -- The question of the day!

    May 26, 2020 Melodie Bissell

    On Monday, March 16, 2020, Canada went on lockdown after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Soon thereafter, the United States also initiated lockdowns. The virus continued to hit all corners of the world as citizens were encouraged to stay indoors to avoid the continued spread. We had to say goodbye to physical interactions with our loved ones, our families and our communities as we worked together to keep each other safe and flatten the curve. 

    At the time of writing this, the world has reached 5.5 million cases; the USA 1.7 million, and Canada has reached over 85,000 cases of COVID-19. The risk to everyone still remains high, meaning that the virus has made a significant impact on the world's healthcare system and has devastated our society, as it has impacted millions of people losing loved ones. Although those aged 65 and older, those with compromised immune systems, or with underlying medical conditions have been most effected, COVID-19 has shown that no person is immune; everyone can be at risk, which is why governments around the world have taken such drastic measures to prevent the spread. 

    As we have reached over two months of isolation, Provinces across Canada and States across the USA have slowly begun to reopen for business, allowing some small businesses, parks, and deemed essential services to allow for public use, it is crucial that organizations restructure to provide healthy environments for our communities to return to. To continue to flatten the curve while entering back into society, organizations will be tasked to take additional measures in the regular day-to-day operations and program planning. 

    We have seen that recommendations are consistently changing as health organizations are reaching new developments daily. So where are organizations supposed to start? What steps can you be making now to prepare for the reopening of your program? What kind of challenges will you face?

    What kind of questions should you be asking yourself and your Board when preparing to open?
    • "Is your Kid's Ministry clean, safe and secure?
    • What will 'First Impressions' look like for participants when we open our doors?
    • What is something we need to get right the first time as we reopen?
    • What is the future of the check-in process?
    • What adjustments do we need to make for staffing and supervision?
    • What is the recommended capacity once we reopen?" (Brooks, 2020)

    Poll the audience. Even before you begin to strategize the reopening of your church and its programming, you will need to work collaboratively and reflect on these questions with the members of your church or organization as you begin planning your relaunch strategies. In doing so, we urge you to keep in mind the three types of people that you will encounter: 
    1. Red light: These individuals are morally opposed to the reopening. They believe it is better to play it safe as long as possible for the wellbeing of others and themselves. They feel obligated to love others this way. 
    2. Yellow light: These individuals are going to proceed with reopening, but with an abundance of caution. They will want ace masks, hand washing, social distancing, and as much as you can put in place to be safe. 
    3. Green light: These individuals are ready to go back to normal today. They feel morally obligated to eat in restaurants, go shopping and attend church. They feel obligated that this is in the best interests of others. 
    Note that none of these attitudes are wrong, but you will have all three in your organization, and they will all believe their position is right. By ensuring that you are confident in the cautionary steps that you take after a thorough risk analysis, as an organization to reopen program, you will hopefully be able to have everyone on board for the process. You should expect that not everyone will want to join you for the process, and that is okay. You should not force anyone to come back earlier than they are ready, as this pandemic continues to develop. You should also expect that not everyone will return for programming or to attend service.  

    Taking into account Red Light, Yellow Light and Green Light, send out a survey to your organization members asking them what they would like to see to be confident to return back when you open your doors. What precautionary measures would they like to see?

    Decrease capacity. Due to the biology of the virus and a lack of a vaccine, the risk is still present and can still spread. To have a lower attendance when reopening programs can prove to be beneficial, as lower attendance also equals lower risk of an outbreak within your organization community. At this point in time, we are confident that occupancy limits will be made tight on organizations--schools open in Quebec are currently capped at 15 students per classroom--as we also reasonably anticipate that churches will not be able to hold gatherings for service for quite some time. 

    Open in stages. As we await the government's development of specific guidelines regarding occupancy, social distancing, program allowances and training that organizations must follow, we would like to share guidelines that you should be ready to put into practice when inviting the public back into your doors. Camps have been cancelled. Many churches have decided not to open Child/Youth Ministry when initially opening the doors to the church community. Rather, opening the organization in stages will help manage the new policies and procedures that the organization will need to implement to ensure to provide a safe environment for all of those attending. 

    Organizations should publish a statement of waiver of liability. Somewhere in your bulletin, website, etc., should be a statement of waiver of liability. This statement ensures that everyone understands they are attending at their own risk. Organizations should also determine a strategy for fallout. Before any fallout occurs, determine how you plan to handle the media and law enforcement while walking with your people through the process. Guard against reactional thinking or responses.

    Establish policies and procedures.
    It has been said that Plan to Protect®  is an encyclopedia of best practices and standards on abuse prevention and protection.  However, over the course of the last three months we have identified two gaps within our best practices at Plan to Protect®.  I’m sure your policies and procedures were similar.  One of those was for extensive Online Engagement.  In consultation with members of our Advisory Council, we drafted an Online Engagement policy.  We have distributed that policy to over 800 members and organizations to date.  The second gap is the policies and procedures to transition back from self-isolation.  If you policies and procedures do not specifically address this high risk activity (and yes transition back from self-isolation is high risk), then we recommend you obtain a copy of our policy and procedure statement that has been developed for this purpose. 

    Train and assign your people. Organizations will face risk when they open. Well in advance of opening, hold specific training sessions for ALL volunteers and staff on the revised policies and procedures for registration, personal protective equipment, responding to a RSVP, maintaining a clean environment, supervision and monitoring, elevated precautions, etc.  Ensure that everyone knows their role in the transition and are trained on the newly established policies and procedures for the transition. The training required for transition and reopening from a pandemic is above and beyond any type of training you would have provided them in the past.

    Be prepared for fallout.  The risk of reopening is not limited to the spread of COVID-19, you may also face the risk of individuals that oppose you opening and vote with their feet or their pocketbook.  You may also face the risk of community fallout, and the media reaches out to you to comment on your position.  Be prepared if the media calls.  As Barrie Doyle Lead Trainer of our Crisis Response and Management Course says, “It’s not if but when!” 

    “WOW what timing! The Plan to Protect® Crisis Response and Management Course went live in January just before the pandemic hit hard. Many are now learning how to communicate to all their constituents plus the media, politicians and communities. And not just for now, but for any future crises--large or small--that might come their way. Check it out. If you run a nursing home, camp, school, church, mission, or any non-profit dealing with people and kids in vulnerable situations, you need this course. Barrie Doyle

    Finally, determine your readiness.  Over the course of the next few weeks, take the Readiness Assessment which will help you and your team determine whether or not you are ready to open your doors.  Focus on your low scores, spend time focusing on those weaknesses, and then swing your doors open … however we would recommend you do it with caution and care. 

    To take the Plan to Protect® Readiness Assessment CLICK HERE









    On Tuesday, June 2, 2020, Jean Leslie said:

    Thank you for having the resources needed to support us as we transition out of self-isolation! They are much needed and appreciated! God bless all of you working so hard to support the vulnerable!


    On Tuesday, June 2, 2020, Jonathan Mills said:

    Thanks Melodie: The one thing we are not lacking these days is advice! There are far too many people offering help, and often it is disorganized or weak. This article is better organized and contains the right questions to be asking now in anticipation of the next steps. Thanks for your ongoing commitment to health and protection of our congregations. Particularly the most vulnerable!


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