Friends General Conference COVID Pandemic Health & Safety Policy
Effective 19 March 2024

The below information is a summary – the full version of the FGC COVID Pandemic Health & Safety Policy is also available. A simplified infographic will be available shortly.

FGC’s Pandemic Health and Safety Working Group has been meeting regularly since the 2023 Gathering of Friends concluded.  This group affirmed continuing the Gathering policies for all in person events held by FGC through March 2024. We recently reached consensus on the FGC Pandemic Policy for the Gathering and other in person FGC events after March 31, 2024.

We did not come to these decisions lightly or without much discussion and careful thought.  We tried to balance diverse needs of Friends in our community, including those who are more vulnerable to infection, those who find themselves isolated because masks exacerbate their hearing challenges, those who continue to struggle with the effects of long Covid, and those who have a higher risk tolerance.

The full revised policy is online here. As you prepare to register for the Gathering and other FGC events, here are the main points:

  • Everyone over the age of six months attending an in person FGC Event is required to have at least the updated 2023-2024 COVID vaccine (Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, or Novavax) at least two weeks before the event.  We encourage Friends to have any additional doses recommended by the CDC and their medical team.
  • Everyone is asked to take 2 rapid COVID tests, 48 hours apart, before departing for the event.  One PCR test with results before departure may be substituted.
  • Everyone will be administered a rapid test provided by FGC before completing check in.
  • Any attender with a positive test result, and their immediate traveling party, will be unable to participate in the event.
  • Masking will be encouraged but not required in most spaces for Friends 6 years old and older. Masking will be required (except for speakers) at the plenary sessions.  Masks must be N95, KN95, or KN94, properly worn over the nose and mouth. Program leaders may ask that participants be masked so speakers can be more safely unmasked for clarity.

While masking will be encouraged but not required at activities with singing and dancing, for instance, there are heightened risks with these activities.  We will also explore what Gathering  activities can be outside, or held with open windows, keeping in mind that on a small campus we also have to be concerned about noise.  We will have options for outdoor dining. We plan on having Gathering housing options where masking is required in the common areas (except when showering and brushing teeth); choosing this option will supersede other cluster choices. We are open to ideas to promote comfort and accessibility for Friends, but we also need to not add complexity to the work of staff.

Most importantly, we want to remind Friends that we respect each individual’s decision to mask, or not. We will respect Friends who request that if we are inside for informal personal interactions that we don a mask or go outside and distance ourselves for their increased protection. We may need to gently remind Friends about proper mask wearing; please do so with care and respect for the individual.

Everyone is reminded that the Gathering cancellation policy allows for a full refund in the event that an attender tests positive for COVID or a communicable disease and contacts the office promptly.

This policy will be reviewed after the Gathering, or sooner if the public health situation changes dramatically. Liz Dykes, Associate Secretary for Ministries, is the convenor of the working group, and is available to hear your concerns about the policy.

FGC requires an updated 2023/2024 vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax) at least two weeks prior to the event for those 6 months of age or older, regardless of prior COVID infection. There is no firm data on how long any immunity conferred by COVID-19 infection lasts. It is not recommended to delay initial vaccination, even post-COVID-19 infection, as long as you are no longer symptomatic and have completed your recommended quarantine to minimize the risk to others.

While FGC recommends being up-to-date on any boosters available to you, we recognize that your local health guidance may vary on timing. Please consult your local health authority for recommended vaccine schedules.

At this time, Friends General Conference has made the decision to require primary COVID vaccinations for all attendees who can be vaccinated under current health guidelines for events in-person. This is not a decision that has been made lightly, as FGC recognizes that it will prevent some Friends who have chosen not to vaccinate from attending in-person events.

FGC is committed to finding alternate ways to maintain community and allow Friends who cannot attend events in-person to experience FGC events and community. Consider a Friend’s words from an article written for Friends Journal, “Not every event will be accessible, suitable, or desired by every Friend, but our hope is that within the totality of offerings, many Friends will find things to feed their spiritual hunger, inspire their connections with the wider body of North American Friends, and continue their journeys as Quakers in the twenty-first century.”

Attendees at Friends General Conference events often come together from all over North America, if not the world. The fact that we are creating communities from such disparate home communities and regions increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission. While our host facilities and communities often have their own policies and risk assessments around COVID-19 based on the community that is hosting us, we must consider our increase in risk.

This risk not only concerns our FGC community, but the communities that host us. It is incumbent upon us as we seek right relationship with our hosts to minimize the risk that we bring to them.

Currently, FGC requests that you take two rapid antigen tests, approximately 24 hours apart, prior to departing for your event. This is to, if possible, safeguard against people from traveling to an event and not being able to attend.

You may be able to source rapid tests from your insurance provider. If not, pharmacies like Walgreens or CVS in the United States carry home tests. Prices as of the creation of this FAQ are $23.99 for two tests.

  • We believe that Friends General Conference is a religious community with a responsibility to all who attend FGC events.
    • This responsibility includes making our best efforts to maintain a high level of safety for and protection of our community.
      • Our individual choices affect others in the community
      • Marginalized community members have been found to be at greater risk of serious illness & death from COVID-19. These infections have a disproportionate impact on people with lower incomes, people with disabilities, people who are immunocompromised, people who are uninsured or underinsured, and people of color.

  • We continue to suffer from a global pandemic with recurrent waves of infection.
  • Viral evolution continues. Multiple recent variants have shown resistance to immunity from prior infections and vaccines as well as medications including Paxlovid and other therapeutics.
  • We are currently only beginning to understand the repercussions of “long COVID,” meaning continued COVID symptoms or other sequelae, which can be debilitating or disabling. Current WHO estimates are that 10%-20% of people infected by COVID experience long COVID.
  • Children under 6 months old are not eligible for vaccination, and can therefore best be protected by the reduced amount of community infection (and therefore transmission) that vaccination of those who are eligible provides.
  • Unvaccinated children, people who are immunocompromised, people with certain (common) conditions, and the elderly are at greater risk of severe disease & death.
  • Serious illness and death occur even in healthy teens and young adults, though their relative risk is lower than in those who are older.
  • Communities of color, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, people who are uninsured or underinsured, and people living in lower income communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, even now.

  • Many organizations, including governments, have relaxed masking, distancing, and vaccination requirements.
  • Regardless of the motivation behind these moves, they do reflect declining case counts and the effectiveness of vaccination and other COVID-19 mitigation measures.
  • However, there are members of our community and the communities that we are guests in that are at increased risk from COVID-19. These can include, but are not limited to:
    • People and communities of color
    • People who are disabled
    • Indigenous people and communities
    • People living in lower-income communities
    • Children
    • People who are immunocompromised
    • The elderly
  • Friends General Conference has chosen to take extra steps and retain more vigilant measures against COVID-19 to protect the most vulnerable among us.
  • Community members have also needed to plan for their Gathering experience, so we needed to set requirements and procedures in place.

  • Rapid tests upon arrival will be provided.
  • During the event, rapid tests will be provided if deemed necessary by FGC staff due to exposures, symptoms. or positive cases.
  • Some masks will be available to those who have forgotten or run out, but plan to bring your own that are compliant with N-19, KN95, or KF94 standards.

  • PCR testing is the most accurate available test for COVID-19, and best at catching asymptomatic infections. However, it has become harder and harder to get PCR tests.
  • Rapid Antigen Tests are the most widely available tests and the most accessible.
  • RATs are less sensitive to asymptomatic infections due what they assess, so serial testing can increase their sensitivity, leading to a better chance of catching an early infection.

  • N95-rated respirators with straps around the head provide the best protection.
  • N95 & KN95 with ear loops provide good protection, but are more prone to leaks.
  • “Surgical” or “procedure” masks offer some protection, but leaks are a weakness. If they are the only available option, doubling up on masks may provide more protection.
  • Cloth masks and “gaiters” are ineffective and unsatisfactory.
  • Face shields may protect from respiratory droplets, but do not protect against or prevent the spread of airborne viral particles without a mask. In the case of some transparent plastic “masks”, they actually funnel exhalation up and out, allowing for further spread.

  • Wear a mask while obtaining food, then take the food outside to eat, while still considering physical distancing if possible. COVID transmission outside is much less likely.
  • Wear a mask while obtaining food, take it off to eat or drink promptly, and then replace your mask to socialize. If possible, leave the dining area to socialize.

Read the full version of the FGC COVID Pandemic Health & Safety Policy

We are currently in the process of updating the COVID Safety Infographic to include these policy revisions and the documentation of the policy itself.

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