Planning next steps through state and federal requirements and new scientific data

Author: William D'AngeloCynthia Randall

Are We Doing It Right

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all aspects of our lives, with the faith-based and secular nonprofit sectors having been disrupted and impacted perhaps the most. Throughout the country, ministries and mission-based organizations are battling challenges and unforeseen health and safety issues, while trying to fulfill their core mission of serving the public. There continues to be conflicting information coming from state and federal government and the scientific community. The question remains… are we doing it right?

Planning COVID-19 guidelines through uncertainty

States have plans to follow written "protocols," and each organization has multiple stakeholders with conflicting positions. Houses of worship have been singled out at times and also had conflicting direction and requirements from state and local government. Some organizations have received funding to assist with these programs. How do we know we are spending it correctly? There are detailed requirements for reimbursement and grants, and loans can be audited. Unfortunately, programs like this are ripe for fraud.

Guidelines for operation are derived from numerous sources, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Governors' offices, Health Departments, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). This is all new and oftentimes confusing. Overlapping regulatory frameworks are understandably overwhelming for religious and nonprofit leaders to comprehend and master while, at the same time, attempting to address the new and complicated needs of each sector of their organization.

The conflicting information being provided and the intended implementation can be challenging. The protocols designed to keep the members, staff, volunteers and public safe from contracting COVID-19 will be under a microscope and transparency of, and adherence to, those protocols will be paramount in gaining approval to ensure safe environments.

All of this leaves boards and administrators with questions and, unfortunately, risk and liability.

Questions we should be asking are:

  • How do we know we are doing enough?
  • How do we know if we are doing it correctly?
  • How do we know if our consultants got it right?
  • How do we know our vendors are doing the right thing?

A good starting point is to conduct a hazard assessment of the specific site operation and identify control measures to assist in limiting the spread of the virus.

Once the assessment is complete, then update or create a plan that is reviewed on a regular basis which follows the applicable guidelines. Plans should include the following:

  1. Operational continuity: Written communication protocols relaying the risk and precautions being taken to keep staff, the public and worshippers safe.
  2. Incorporate physical distancing guidelines for all spaces: Provide staff/volunteers with PPE and training per CDC and OSHA requirements on proper use, infection prevention and control measures.
  3. Create a policy that addresses staff, volunteers, visitors and/or worshippers to remain at home if they are feeling sick.

As programs, guidelines and regulations can be confusing, Gallagher Bassett Technical Services (GBTS) is available to assist. GBTS is the technical risk engineering, industrial hygiene, health and safety, environmental and building sciences consultancy within Gallagher. It has been developing and implementing COVID-19 response actions and protocols since early March 2020, and can assist in the navigation of planning through state and federal requirement.

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