The Safe Place Team
The Safe Place Team was formed in 2020 to determine and communicate the church’s response to COVID-19. The Purple Group of the Safe Place Team focuses on compiling scientific research, checking state and city guidelines, and advising Pastors Ben and Rebecca on safe practices with regards to COVID-19. The Orange Group shares the compiled COVID-19 information with the church through videos and conducts surveys to help keep church members informed and connected.
Purple Group Members: Joe Talaiver (leader), Chiquacta Hodges, Eryka Wentz, Ben Faroe, Anna Talaiver, Ben Malmin and Bryan Beach. Orange Group Members: Chris Vazquez (leader), Holly Turlington, Malinda Brady, Abby Vazquez, Rebecca Malmin, and Kristen Faroe
Pandemic Pods FAQs
What is a pandemic pod and what does it look like in real life?
Chris Vazquez met with the Faroes and Weybrights to discuss how the two families formed their pandemic pod last year. Watch the video below to learn the many benefits they have experienced as well as some helpful tips to maintaining a life-giving pod.
How do you create a pandemic pod to connect with others during COVID?
As warmer weather approaches, many have heard of or thought about creating a “pandemic pod” with another person or family. This can be a great way to be in community with our brothers and sisters safely. If you’re interested, take a look at some helpful tips below!
- Determine your family/household’s COVID boundaries and risks
- Consider other families/households that align to or would be willing to align to those boundaries and risks
- Reach out to the other person/family for general interest
- Have a “pre-pod” meeting with all involved parties to discuss:
- What restrictions (if any) do we follow within the pod?
- What restrictions do we follow outside of the pod (restaurants, outdoor activities/indoor activities, shopping, etc)?
- For what reasons would the pods need to quarantine from each other?
- Go through different “real-life scenarios” to see the honest opinion of the different pod members.
- How will the pod deal with broken rules and/or boundaries?
- Determine compatibility: honesty is the best policy here. If all parties aren’t feeling good after this meeting, it could lead to bigger issues down the road.
- Come up with a communication plan. It could be daily, weekly, or even biweekly. It can be through text, email, or even face to face! Plan to discuss health updates, report on activities, or potential future plans.
- Have a COVID exposure plan for communication, expected actions (testing, quarantining, or otherwise).
- Put the entire plan in writing and have all members in agreement.
- Quarantine for at least 7 days prior to the pod
- Have a “trial period” of a few weeks or so. After the trial period, if members feel uncomfortable or are unwilling to move forward, stop the pod.
Remember, the point of a pod is to help relationships grow, not the other way around. If you feel that the pod is not life-giving, respectfully contact the pod members. In the same way, if someone contacts you, avoid defensiveness and work to maintain the relationship, just in a virtual setting 🙂
What are the different types of COVID-19 vaccines?
There are currently three types of COVID-19 vaccines on the market or under development: mRNA vaccines, viral vector vaccines, and protein subunit vaccines. Before we get into describing each type, it is important to understand the structure of the COVID-19 virus. The COVID-19 virus is known for having crown-like structures on its surface. These crown-like structures are called spike proteins.
Pfizer-BioNTech & Moderna: The Pfizer & Moderna vaccines are called mRNA vaccines. An mRNA vaccine contains genetic instructions that teaches your cells how to make harmless copies of these spike proteins. Once created, these specific proteins will trigger an immune response inside the body, and the body will produce antibodies. As we talked about before, our immune system is our body’s defense system against invaders, like a virus, and antibodies are like soldiers trained to fight one specific enemy. In this case, their enemy is COVID-19. If COVID-19 enters the body in the future, these trained soldiers will be waiting and ready to fight it off.
Johnson & Johnson & AstraZeneca: The Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines are called viral vector vaccines. Viral vector is basically a fancy way to say weakened virus. Weakened means it cannot cause you to get infected and sick with the virus. The weakened virus serves as a delivery system, much like the USPS. Scientists add genetic instructions into the weakened virus and “mail it off” to the body to get into the cells. These instructions tell the cells how to make the spike proteins necessary to trigger an immune response and create antibodies ready to fight off COVID-19.
Novavax: The Novavax vaccine is called a protein subunit vaccine. In order to accomplish its mission, it includes only the parts of a virus that will produce the best immune response. In this case, it contains harmless spike proteins. Once the body recognizes the spike proteins, it will trigger an immune response and create antibodies ready to fight off COVID-19.
I have heard that the COVID-19 vaccines are causing dangerous side effects and can cause infertility? Is this true?
I don’t want to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because I heard it isn’t as good as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Should I wait until a different vaccine type is available?
The goal of all COVID-19 vaccines is to prevent severe illness and death. Some people are worried about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it was found to only be 66% protective against moderate to severe disease, while Pfizer and Moderna were both found to be around 95% protective. However, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was found to be 85% effective in protecting against severe disease after 28 days, which is quite good. It is important to note that the flu vaccine is only around 40-60% effective.
Experts warn the public about comparing the different vaccines to one another. They say it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Each trial is set up completely different, using a different population of people, different geographic regions, and during different time periods. You cannot compare trials to one another unless they are set up in the exact same way. Here are just a few differences to consider when thinking about the three vaccines:
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine trials ran during the early months of the pandemic and before the variants were discovered. The Johnson & Johnson trials ran more recently, during the time the variants were in play, and when we saw the highest numbers of cases and hospitalizations.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine trials included results from mostly U.S. based participants. The Johnson & Johnson trials included results from other countries as well.
Who can we trust to give us reliable information about the coronavirus?
How do people get sick?
How do these invaders get around town?
Why do we need to be physically distant from other people?
Why do we need to wear face masks? Do they even work?
What kind of face mask should I be wearing?
Do face masks damage our immune system and make it hard to breathe?
There is also no evidence that wearing a cloth mask will weaken your immune system. Some people have said that a cloth mask limits your exposure to the bacteria that keep your immune system active and functioning. But, even with a mask on, people are still being exposed to plenty of bacteria through the food they eat and the surfaces they touch. Experts are not recommending we wear cloth masks to protect us against bacteria. They are recommending that we wear them to help prevent droplets containing the coronavirus from being exhaled by an infected person when they cough, sneeze, and talk. They are also recommending we wear them to help prevent us from inhaling droplets that may contain the coronavirus. To learn more about what experts are saying about mask-wearing, oxygen levels, and the immune system, click here.
If I have already been infected with the coronavirus and recovered, do I still need to wear a mask?
What is the risk if we gather at a church building with the windows open?
- The more people you interact with, the greater your risk.
- The longer you interact with people outside of your household, the greater the risk.
- Interacting with people outside of your household increases your risk.
- Some people have the virus and don’t have any symptoms.
- When an infected person talks, sneezes, or coughs, droplets can land on people that are within 6 feet, and can also be inhaled into the lungs of people further away than 6 feet.
Based on this, we still feel that it is too risky to hold in-person church services. To learn more about the risk of coronavirus and indoor settings, click here.
What does it mean to quarantine? Self-isolate?
The suggested quarantine time is 14 days. However, it can be shortened to 7 days if you have a negative test result, or 10 days if you do not develop symptoms and do not plan to be tested. However, it is important to monitor for symptoms of the coronavirus for the full 14 days.
Here are the general rules associated with a quarantine:
- Do not leave your house unless it is an emergency. The only exception would be to go outside for fresh air or a short walk. But, this is only possible if you avoid all people outside of your household. No exceptions for grocery shopping, eating out, socializing (even with masks on and with distancing) with people who do not live in your household.
- Do not allow visitors to come inside your home. The only people inside your home are those who already live there.
- Practice proper hygiene and wash your hands often.
- Monitor for symptoms of the coronavirus. If you develop symptoms, consult your primary care physician for next steps.
- Because you may have been exposed, do not share items like towels, cups, or utensils with other people living inside your home.
- Maintain at least 6 feet of distance between you and those living in your household.
Self-isolation: Self-isolation is recommended when a person has tested positive for the coronavirus or who has coronavirus symptoms. The goal of isolation is to ‘isolate’ the sick person from everyone else to prevent the further spread of the virus. Consult your primary care physician and/or local health department guidelines for when to end self-isolation.
Here are the general rules associated with self-isolation:
- Follow all rules of a quarantine, and add:
- Avoid all contact with those in your household. If contact is necessary, proper PPE should be worn at all times and physical distancing should be practiced.
- Avoid contact with pets if at all possible.
- If possible, the sick person should use a separate bedroom and bathroom than other household members.
- The sick person should not join household members to eat; they should eat in their separate room.
- Do not share any items with the sick person, including bedding, towels, cups, utensils, etc.
- High-touched surfaces, like countertops and door knobs, should be disinfected regularly.
I have heard there are new mutant variants of the coronavirus. Should I be scared? Will the vaccines protect against them too?
It is normal for a virus to mutate during its life cycle. Mutations are genetic changes. These changes aren’t always a cause for concern. Sometimes they are so slight they may not change the way a virus is passed from person to person or how deadly it is. At this point, there are three main variations (combination of mutations) scientists have found. Variations are typically named by the location they were first discovered: U.K. variant (B.1.1.7), South Africa variant (B.1.351), and Brazil variant (P.1). Each variation has its own combination of mutations and characteristics. To learn more about each variant, click here and here to read information from the CDC.
Before we move on, let’s define two terms you will likely hear on the news and read online: efficacy and effectiveness. They both measure how well a vaccine will prevent disease. Efficacy refers to how well it prevents disease in a clinical trial. Effectiveness refers to how well it prevents disease in the real world. The current coronavirus vaccines have good efficacy. And with more and more people getting vaccinated, we will soon be able to see if they are effective as well.
Here is what we currently know:
The U.K. variant has shown to be more contagious than other variants. In the U.K., they found that this variant is associated with more efficient and rapid transmission than other variants. This means more people getting infected quicker and easier than we see now. There is early evidence showing that it may increase the severity of disease as well (more severe symptoms). In a presentation given by Dr. Anthony Fauci on February 10, 2021, he stated that this variant only very slightly reduces the efficacy of our current coronavirus vaccines. He also believes that this variant will likely be the dominant variant in the United States by March. We need to keep in mind that more people becoming infected at faster rates will create an additional burden on our already suffering health care system. To learn more about this variant click here. To listen to Dr. Fauci’s presentation, click here.
There is more concern associated with the South Africa variant. Early evidence shows that it may be associated with more efficient and rapid transmission as well. According to Dr. Fauci, the efficacy of the current coronavirus vaccines will be moderately to severely reduced. However, he still believes that the vaccines will protect against severe disease (hospitalizations and death).
There is much less known about the Brazil variant at this time. The experimental results are pending. As we learn more, we will update this document.
It is more important than ever to follow public health guidelines: maintain a physical distance of at least 6 feet from all people who do not live in your household, wear a mask every time you leave the house, wash your hands often with soap and water (or use hand sanitizer), avoid crowds, indoor spaces, and close contact with anyone not in your household. It is also important to make sure you are wearing a good mask and wearing it correctly. For more information on masks from the CDC, click here.
Coronavirus Testing FAQs
Who should get a coronavirus test?
- People who have symptoms of the coronavirus (see a list of symptoms here).
- People who have had close contact with a person infected with the coronavirus. By close contact, we mean being within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes total over the course of an entire day. This is updated guidance from the CDC. The previous guidance indicated the 15 minutes were accumulated all at once. Now, the 15 minutes can be accumulated in shorter periods throughout a 24-hour time period, but totally at least 15 minutes.
- People who are asked to get tested by a healthcare provider or a local/state health department.
- In Maryland, people are also asked to get tested if they have traveled out-of-state. If you are returning to Maryland after traveling out-of-state, you are asked to get tested either 72-hours (3 days) before returning or immediately upon returning (see guidance here).
To learn more about testing and who should get tested, click here.
Where can I get tested for the coronavirus?
To find a testing location near you, click here.
I have heard that there are many different types of coronavirus tests available. What makes them different?
Current infection: Tests that look for current infection are called viral tests. There are two main types of viral tests: antigen tests and RT-PCR tests. Antigen tests look for the presence of an invader in the body causing the immune system to mount a defense against it. RT-PCR tests look for the presence of specific genetic material (RNA) in the virus causing the immune system to mount a defense against it. Antigen tests are done on nasal or throat swabs. RT-PCR tests can be done on nasal swabs, throat swabs, or saliva.
There are pros and cons to each type of test for current coronavirus infection. But before we go into that, we want to explain two terms that are commonly used to describe how good a test is: sensitivity and specificity.
Let’s say 100 people are getting tested and 20 of them actually have current coronavirus infection. Sometimes a test will come back negative, but that person is actually positive. We call that a false negative. On the other hand, sometimes a test will come back positive, but that person is actually negative. We call that a false positive.
If all 100 people are tested, and the test correctly identifies 18 of the 20 as being positive for the coronavirus, we would say that the test has high sensitivity. If it only correctly identifies 5 of the 20 as being positive for the coronavirus, we would say that the test has low sensitivity.
Using this same example, let’s say that the test identified 80 people as being positive for the coronavirus, but we know that only 20 actually have it. We would say that the test has low specificity, meaning it did not correctly identify those without the virus. It gave too many false positives. If the test identified 23 people as being positive for the coronavirus, we would say that the test had high specificity. Meaning it returned many fewer false positives.
Now let’s get back to the pros and cons of the antigen test and the RT-PCR test. Let’s start with the antigen test. The antigen test tends to cost less money to produce and you can get your results back fairly quickly. It also has high specificity, meaning it does a pretty good job at correctly identifying those without coronavirus infection. However, it doesn’t do as good of a job at identifying people who actually have the infection, meaning it has lower sensitivity. For this reason, if your antigen test is negative, but you are showing symptoms, your doctor may order a RT-PCR test to confirm that you are actually negative. The RT-PCR test costs more money to produce and it may take longer (up to a week) to get your results back. But, it does a really great job at correctly identifying those with and without coronavirus infection. For this reason, the test usually does not need to be repeated, and it is considered the gold-standard test for diagnosing current coronavirus infection.
Past Infection: Tests that look for past infection are called antibody tests and are done on blood from a blood draw or a finger prick. Test results are usually provided within a few days. An antibody is like a soldier who is trained to fight one specific enemy and that specific enemy alone. Sometimes the soldier will remember who their target is for a long time, but sometimes it will forget shortly after getting its fighting orders. The antibody test is looking to see if you have any soldiers with the sole mission of fighting the coronavirus. If they find the antibodies against the coronavirus in your system, then it means you were already infected with the virus and recovered. Antibodies can usually be detected in your body 1-3 weeks after your symptoms began. Although the data are preliminary, it looks like the antibodies trained to fight the coronavirus may remember the coronavirus and keep fighting it for up to three months.
Will my coronavirus test results be accurate?
Data from a study at Johns Hopkins University show that you should get tested immediately after you display coronavirus symptoms. If you wait too long, you may end up with a false negative test. What if you don’t have any symptoms but you were exposed to a person who has the coronavirus? That is where it gets a bit tricky. Data from this same study showed that you should wait 2-3 days after you have been exposed before getting tested. Other studies are finding similar results as well. Chiquacta, who works as an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, has found that it is best to get tested 5-7 days after exposure if you do not have symptoms. If you display symptoms, you should get tested right away.
What does a positive coronavirus test mean? What does a negative coronavirus test mean?
- If you were exposed to someone who is infected with the coronavirus, you should quarantine for 14 days after your last contact with that person, even if you receive a negative test result.
- If you test positive for the coronavirus and have symptoms, you should quarantine for 10 days after your symptoms began. You should not come off of quarantine, though, until you have gone 24-hours without a fever (and no fever-reducing medicines) and your other symptoms are also improving.
- If you test positive for the coronavirus but do not have symptoms, you should quarantine for 10 days after receiving a positive test result. But if you develop symptoms, you need to follow the guidance listed above.
I hear there are different kinds of swabs to test for the coronavirus. Which one should I get if I need testing?
There are differences between the different kinds of swabs, ranging from where the sample is taken to who is authorized to take the sample. They are described below:
|Swab Type||Sample Location||Who Can Collect?||Perceived Discomfort (based on Eryka’s experience)|
|Deep Nasal||Nose (inserted straight back into the nose, about as far back as the distance between your nostril and the opening of your ear||Healthcare provider only||Moderately uncomfortable, but it went away after the swab was collected. I felt pressure, a burning sensation, and it made my eyes water.|
|Nose (inserted straight back into the nose, about an inch into the nose)||Healthcare provider, patient (if supervised)||Mildly uncomfortable, but it went away after the swab was collected. I felt pressure, but not as much pressure as I felt when I got the deep swab.|
|Shallow Nasal||Nose (right inside your nose)||Healthcare provider, patient (if supervised)||Very mild to no discomfort. It was very quick.|
|Throat||Throat (swab is done on the tonsils)||Healthcare provider only||I did not receive a throat swab. From what I have read, it may be mildly uncomfortable and you may feel a gagging sensation.|
As we said before, the data we have on the accuracy of the different swabs is preliminary. Here is what experts have discovered so far based on small studies:
- The Deep Nasal Swab may be more accurate in detecting the coronavirus than the Throat Swab (article 1, article 2, article 3).
- The Deep Nasal Swab may be more accurate in detecting the coronavirus than the Mid-Deep Nasal Swab (article 1, article 2, article 3)
- The Deep Nasal Swab may be more accurate in detecting the coronavirus than the Shallow Nasal Swab (article 1)
Chiquacta has also indicated that in her experience at the hospital, the Deep Nasal Swab has been the standard for reliable testing.
We would recommend you speak to your healthcare provider if you have any additional questions about which swab to get if you think you have been exposed to the coronavirus or are showing symptoms of the coronavirus.
Immune System Basics FAQs
What is immunity?
Can people become immune to the coronavirus?
Despite recent reports that people may be immune for up to 3 months following infection with the coronavirus, the CDC released a statement on August 14, 2020, stating the current data does not support this claim. To read this release, click here.