Hold Tight!

Dear Beloved of Christ,

Hold tight! Looks like we’re entering another stage of our pandemic journey: the Omicron wave. We’ve known for several weeks that it was coming, and now it is here. On Friday our state recorded 10,000 daily cases, a record high—after three record-breaking days. (During the September Delta wave, daily cases in Oregon topped out at 4,000.)

Cases are expected to continue to grow exponentially. At one point last week, the test positivity rate was 24%. On January 6, Oregon Health Authority reported only 7% of adult ICU beds (42 beds) were available in the state. As state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said Friday. “This is not the way any of us wanted to begin the new year.”

You might be experiencing this wave personally, or hearing stories of exposure, quarantine, infection, and isolation from within your social networks. You might have been one of the many people trying to find a booster shot, a rapid test kit, a PCR testing appointment. (Just last week, after a suspected exposure, I myself was.)

Before we go on, let’s acknowledge that not all the news is bad, this is 2022, not 2020.  We have much to be grateful for:

  • We have highly effective vaccines. Though they don’t prevent infections as well with omicron, they continue to provide strong protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death.

  • We have treatments.

  • We have reason to believe Omicron leads to fewer hospitalizations and deaths than Delta.

However, while individual risk may be low, the communal risk is high. We are still in a pandemic (pandemics are defined by rapid spread). Even if Omicron leads to a lower percentage of hospitalizations, this can still be an extremely high number, as the number of infected people is much higher. The latest OHSU forecast suggests that we might reach peak hospitalization on January 27 with 1652 patients (this would be 40% higher than the peak during the Delta wave in September).

Here’s what we know:

  1. Omicron is MUCH more infectious than previous strains. The CDC expects that anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.

  2. Omicron can infect vaccinated people at higher rates than previous strains.

  3. Churches are full of people over 65, who are among the most vulnerable.

  4. Positive cases are expected to continue to rise exponentially.

  5. Even a small percentage of hospitalizations will strain our healthcare system.

So, knowing all of this, how do we proceed?

Once again, we are called to protect the greater good. We are called to protect the vulnerable people among us. We are called to ease the pressure on our overwhelmed and fatigued frontline healthcare workers. Therefore,

We strongly recommend that church buildings close for the next 2-4 weeks.

This is not forever; we know Omicron moves quickly. We suggest a return to virtual services with a wait-and-see attitude on reopening. The bishop’s office has heard from a number of churches that are already doing this and we suggest you follow their lead.

And let us continue to pray for each other:

For those hospitalized

For frontline medical workers
For those who are sick
For those who are infected and frightened
For those frightened of infection
For teachers
For parents of school-aged children
For those that cannot be vaccinated
For those with underlying health conditions that increase their risk
For those who will need medical care for other emergencies
For those that work in public facing roles and essential services
And let us offer prayers of gratitude
For all those stepping up for others
For the vaccines
For the decrease in hospitalizations and deaths

May we be given the strength to endure.
To do what is best for others and not just ourselves.
To trust in spring while in the midst of winter.


With deep gratitude,

Bishop Laurie