Each of the bishops of the three Tennessee dioceses are advising greater caution in light of the Delta variant. All are recommending masks in indoor settings, regardless of vaccine status. All make their most recent guidance easily located on the homepages of their dioceses’ websites.
The statements have been edited for length.
Last week, the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated persons wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. Yesterday, the Shelby County Health Department issued Health Order No. 24 which will be in effect through August 31, 2021. Because the Delta variant is now dominant in Shelby County and we are experiencing high levels of transmission, the Shelby County Health Department strongly recommends masks for all persons when they are indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
Due to the evolving nature of the pandemic and the fact that counties in West Tennessee are reporting high levels of transmission, we strongly recommend that all persons participating in indoor activities wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. Our lay leaders and clergy are charged with establishing protocols which are appropriate in each context. Thank you for all you have done to ensure the health and safety of parishioners, staff, and guests.
Bishop’s Letter Regarding Mask Protocols
In keeping with recent public health advisories issued by the Centers for Disease Control, I am again recommending general mask wearing in our churches, as provided for in our diocesan protocols.
If we know anything about travelling on the “Wilderness Road,” we know it has many twists and turns. We are in a changing environment in regards to the pandemic, with increasing numbers of cases in many places. Our diocesan response acknowledges this reality.
This communication is addressed to clergy and lay leadership rather than to the membership of our diocese as a whole, in order to allow you as leaders, in consultation with your people, to make considered, prudent, and timely decisions for your congregations. We have many different contexts and situations in our diocese, and the grace to exercise good judgment. My intention is to support you in your work, and to exercise care for our congregations.
[From the transcript of a video message.]
I know in the spring, as many of us had access to the COVID-19 vaccine, there was a great sense of joy, of possibility, of progress as numbers went down, as people thought about a return to post-COVID life. Our parishes have experienced that. You and I have experienced that, as well. But we now know for the last few weeks here in Tennessee, we are seeing a huge upsurge in the number of COVID cases related to the delta variant. So I want to speak to you today about bringing back our masks.
I am grateful for our Episcopal schools across the Diocese of East Tennessee. All of our schools are going with full masking indoors, taking very careful precautions guided by the CDC. I applaud and affirm the good work of our Episcopal schools right now. They’re focusing on keeping kids safe, faculty, staff, students, visitors to campus, to keeping them safe. They should be applauded for that work, and I’m grateful for them, but strongly encourage in our parishes as we gather in doors to be masked, knowing that we have people that still can not be vaccinated. We have children that have not yet had access to the vaccine. We want to do everything we can to limit spread to allow us to be able to gather safely in-person because there is so much to be said to be in person.
Here at our diocesan house, all of our staff, we are all vaccinated, but we have now returned to masking, to limiting interaction indoors, just to keep us safe, and folks who come to this building, to keep them safe. Also, just aware right now that that there’s an emotion that maybe many of us are feeling, maybe you’re feeling around anger about the progress we have made as a community, as a country and now to see some of these setbacks, realizing in the state of Tennessee, we are quite low on the percentage of vaccination rates and quite high right now on hospitalization and caseload. Would encourage you to acknowledge that you’re angry but to not allow that anger either to be turned inwards or outwards in ways that’s destructive. …