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Regathering Youth Groups in the Diocese of Easton

In March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic moved most of our work online. Many youth groups got by with Zoom calls, virtual game nights and drive-by graduation parades. Other activities have fallen to the wayside for the time being. Now, during a stage when restrictions on gatherings begin to ease, youth groups and Confirmation classes are wondering about finding ways to gather in person. This is a reasonable instinct; the importance of social interaction during the adolescent years can’t be overstated.

That said, if congregations decide to gather groups of middle and high school students together, it must be done in the safest possible way. The Protocols and Guidelines for Resumption of In-Person Gatherings, assembled by a taskforce of Diocesan representatives, provide a wealth of helpful information; the protocols that follow in this document are a supplement and seek to clarify how the guidelines for small group meetings apply to youth ministry gatherings.

If after reading and carefully considering these guidelines, a congregation decides to gather young people together in person, it is important to do so only with parents’ and/or guardians’ explicit, written consent. A sample form is linked here: Regathering Covenants for Youth Participants and Parents/Guardians.

Here is what the Diocesan Guidelines have to say about small groups meeting:

“Facility use shall be determined by the existing and future Federal, State and Diocesan guidelines pertaining to facility use allowable occupant size. At present that number is 10 or less people per gathering using social distancing and masks.   All other existing guidelines in this document shall also apply including the use of a log book and cleaning / disinfecting protocols.”

Here are some more specific protocols:

What does strict physical distancing look like?

  • Groups from different households must remain six feet apart at all times.
    • The CDC recommends offering multiple entrances and exits to a meeting space. If possible, different doors should be designated as entrances and exits.
    • Plan for how to use restrooms safely: Limit how many people can be in the restroom at a time. Identify who is to be accountable to ensure cleaning at the end of the gathering.
    • Wave and verbally greet each other, instead of shaking hands, hugging or doing an elbow bump.
  • Good ventilation (bringing in fresh air and not just recirculating air) can help disperse the respiratory droplets that carry the virus. Meeting outdoors is the best way to ensure good airflow. If you can’t meet outdoors, make sure that:
    • The room you’re meeting in is large enough to allow physical distancing;
    • All ventilation systems are working well;
    • Doors and windows are open to the outdoors when possible;
    • Fans are set up in such a way that they aren’t blowing directly from one person to another, to minimize the spread of droplets.

What do strict sanitation and hygiene practices look like?

  • All surfaces should be wiped down carefully before and after the meeting, especially if the meeting takes place indoors. Follow the guidelines from the CDC for cleaning and disinfecting.
  • At no point should objects be shared between people from different households.
  • Everyone present must wear a cloth face covering (other than a bandana) for the duration of the gathering. (Bandanas typically aren’t well fit and hang too loosely.)
  • Make sure there is sufficient soap in the restrooms (if meeting indoors) and hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol), and encourage frequent handwashing and sanitizing.

What does limitation of the size of the group look like?

  • The current recommended size for indoor in-person gatherings is 10.
  • Though there is no official time limit, the risk of transmission gets higher the longer people are together, so try to limit the length of in-person meetings, particularly those held indoors, to 1 hour.
  • Additionally, be sure to keep a record of who was present, in case someone present ends up testing positive and you need to provide a list for contact tracing.

For more ideas and resources, refer to the CDC’s “Personal and Social Activities” guidelines, as well as their general resources for people ages 15-21. In assembling this guide, sources referenced were the Diocese of Easton’s Protocols and Guidelines for Resumption of In-Person Gatherings, as well as official guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization.

For situations not covered by this protocol, err on the side of caution, and contact the Diocese of Easton’s Youth Missioner with any questions. Please act with the best interests of your young people, their families, their classmates and their communities in mind. Thank you for your care and cooperation until we can all meet together again fearlessly.

(Parts of this document were borrowed and edited, with permission, from the Diocese of Massachusetts.)