Jan 12, 2021 | John W. Coleman

With COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths surging since Christmas, the rollout of vaccines, although sluggish, is encouraging to many, including clergy and church staff who can expect to receive their first shots in just a few weeks. Meanwhile, Congress’ long-delayed approval of an economic rescue package should soon start paying off for churches and other employers waiting for direly needed financial aid.

Montgomery County Commissioners, in an online meeting with faith community leaders on Monday, January 11, told them their staffs can expect to start getting their first doses in about two more weeks. That includes pastors, administrative and custodial staff, musicians and others involved directly in worship and congregational care. There was no clear information pertaining to vaccine shots for church volunteers. 

But “clergy and other essential support for houses of worship” are included statewide in ​Phase 1B of Pennsylvania’s COVID Vaccination Phasesfound on its official vaccination website.

However, “Philadelphia is one of a few cities nationwide managing its vaccinations independently,” reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. While 400,000 people in Philadelphia are estimated to be in its 1B second phase vaccination group, “the city’s second phase differs slightly from the state’s. Clergy and postal workers, for instance, are included in the state’s second phase but not the city’s.” (Read “Essential workers, people 75 and up, and others will be vaccinated next in Philly, while indoor dining, colleges, and theaters can reopen.”)

Pre-registration online and identity verification onsite—such as paycheck stubs or other official documents—will be required due to growing evidence of fraud in the process. There was no clear information pertaining to vaccine shots for church volunteers. 

COVID-19 has caused nearly 375,000 deaths nationwide, a daunting number that is climbing rapidly with record-breaking increases in the past week. All reported infection data are from PCR tests, not antigen tests. So, the prevalence is likely much higher than reported.

Hospitals overcrowded from virus spread

Most hospitals have few available beds and staff due to overcrowding and the spread of the virus among health care and other frontline workers, long-term care residents and others.

Montgomery County Commissioner, Valerie A. Arkoosh

“This is very real and very serious,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh. “We need to change our behaviors to reduce the spread—wear masks, social distance, and work at home when possible.”

The county has received around 7000 doses of the Moderna vaccine and is trying to vaccinate “1-A” workers—front-line health and caregiving workers, hands-on essential workers. There are about 20,000 people in that category, which does not include those being vaccinated at hospitals, physicians’ offices, pharmacies, etc.

The commissioners reported that websites and social media are proliferating conspiracy theories and disinformation, causing “a very negative impact on vaccinations. This will delay herd immunity and extend the need for masks, social distancing, and restrictions of public gatherings, and business closures.”

Vaccines prevent death, serious illness

To date, vaccines are 100% effective at preventing death and hospitalizations. However, there is some evidence that people who have received vaccines can still transmit COVID-19. They may catch COVID-19 and have a mild or asymptomatic case.

Medical and non-medical professionals are needed to help with vaccinations and related administrative, organizational functions. The hope is for vaccinations to be widespread by the end of summer or early fall—excluding finally, children under age 16. For up-to-date information visit the county’s vaccine information webpage.

While some of this information may apply to other counties also, all persons should check with their city or county commission offices or visit related websites to obtain local information about vaccinations.

New Paycheck Protection applications accepted

Meanwhile, thanks to the new, long-awaited $900 billion federal relief bill, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has reopened applications for eligible churches and businesses that employ up to 300 people. Until Wednesday, Jan. 13, only applications from those that did not receive a PPP loan from the program last year will be accepted. Applications must come through Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs).

The program will be opened to other lenders at a later date yet to be announced. The Small Business Administration (SBA) will forgive PPP loans if the funds are used for eligible expenses, such as utilities, rent, mortgage interest, payroll and/or owner compensation replacement.

More information from the Eastern PA Conference should be reported later this week.

Many thanks to the Rev. Sarah Strosahl-Kagi and the Very Rev. Kathryn Andonian, members of the Royersford Ministerium, for their notes from the Montgomery County Commission meeting with faith leaders, and also to the Rev. Laurie Pfahler for obtaining and forwarding their notes to us for the reporting of this story.