Friends General Conference COVID Pandemic Health & Safety Policy
Effective 22 March 2023
With a concern for our most vulnerable community members – whether aged, disabled, or immunosuppressed – and under the weight of our standing query “How does this decision help transform FGC into an actively anti-racist faith community?” a working group* met to modify and affirm the FGC COVID Pandemic Health & Safety Policy so as to cover the 2023 Gathering of Friends.
The below information is a summary with Gathering-specific information – the full version of the FGC COVID Pandemic Health & Safety Policy is also available. (At the moment, this summary is the most current reflection of the policy. The documentation of the full policy is still being updated.) A simplified infographic is available here.
FGC will require COVID-19 vaccinations for all participants over 6 months old for Gathering attendance. Completion of an initial vaccine series will meet this requirement, however, we encourage everyone to have the newest, bivalent vaccine at least 2 weeks prior to the Gathering. We will not require Friends to show vaccination cards, but will trust their word that they and their children have been vaccinated in accordance with the FGC policy.
FGC asks everyone coming to take two COVID-19 tests, 24 to 48 hours apart, before leaving home. For example, those living close to Monmouth, Oregon might test three days before and on the evening before departure. Those traveling farther might test one or two days before and again just prior to leaving for the airport. While PCR tests are more accurate, they are also more expensive and may be harder to get, so FGC will accept rapid test results. If purchasing tests for your family is a barrier to testing, please contact FGC.
Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should cancel their plans and not attend the Gathering. Please email the office (firstname.lastname@example.org) immediately to let us know.
FGC will test everyone upon arrival at the Gathering, and will supply rapid tests for this.
We still require anyone age 5 and older to wear a mask when indoors, except in individual dorm rooms or while actively eating, brushing their teeth, showering or swimming. The mask must meet N95, KF94 or KN95 standards and cover both the nose and mouth. We encourage masking outdoors, particularly when spending time in close proximity to others. Anyone traveling in FGC-provided transportation (from/to airport, for field trips, or on golf carts) will wear a mask. Though we can’t control offsite behavior, we also encourage masking off site. Please bring enough masks for your comfort, though FGC will provide single-use masks at key locations in case some Friends lose or forget their own.
Quarantine on Campus
Anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should self-test in their room. Contact the FGC COVID-19 Response Team (a phone number will be given to registrants) and a volunteer will deliver tests as needed. We will require anyone testing positive to quarantine, and we will have a limited number of quarantine rooms on the Western Oregon University campus. We can arrange for meal delivery from the WOU cafeteria if we have enough volunteers.
An onsite COVID-19 Response Team will decide if we need midweek testing of all participants, based on the number of positive tests from self-testing, quarantine housing uptake, and cluster outbreaks. We will have a plan for how to administer the testing.
FGC will require anyone who doesn’t abide by these health & safety policies to leave.
FGC’s Long Range Conference Planning Committee has a new no-penalty cancellation protocol that refunds all or part of the Gathering fees on request by those with a serious contagious illness and members of their immediate households. Canceling for other reasons (including being told to leave for policy noncompliance) are subject to the full cancellation policy.
All Events Covered
We will update additional information about parts of the existing policy that apply to other events than the 2023 Gathering of Friends, but as of March 2023, the details of this policy apply to all FGC in-person and hybrid events.
FGC requires the completion of a primary vaccination series for all attendees, 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. As of the writing of this answer, the CDC recommends 1 updated Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at an appropriate interval from your initial series. 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.
Friends General Conference’s Pandemic Health and Safety Policy was created with the intent of providing safety to our community while still making room for connection. Allowing for the removal of masks during meals was discerned to be a reasonable compromise, based on minimizing exposure times while still allowing people the convenience of indoor meals and the fellowship of shared meals.
Infection is not only the function of a single exposure to a disease causing organism (pathogen), but time and the amount of pathogen that the system is exposed to. If someone removes their mask briefly to eat or drink, they are exposed to less pathogen than they would if they did not wear a mask at all, and the body has less pathogen for the immune system to fight.
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.
- This responsibility includes making our best efforts to maintain a high level of safety for and protection of our community.
- 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
- 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.
- Not all attendees can receive the relative protection of vaccination.
- Vaccinated & boosted people can still become infected.
- Face masks protect the wearer.
- Face masks protect people around the wearer in case the wearer is infected and unaware.
- 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.
We are currently in the process of updating the COVID Safety Infographic to include these policy revisions and the documentation of the policy itself.
*The working group included General Secretary Barry Crossno, Interim Conference Director Liz Dykes, Young Adult and Youth Ministries Coordinator Kody Hersh, 2023 Gathering Co-Clerk Jessica Bucciarelli, and Long Range Conference Planning Committee assistant clerk Karen Snare, along with Friends Frank Barch, MD, and Kira Smith, NP.