As our state continues to open, many of you and your clients are asking when and how services can resume at Adventist Community Service (ACS) Centers. I’m writing to check in with you and share some of the best practices you can adopt to keep safety of staff and clients at the forefront of your ministry.
There are still many unknowns ahead of us. As you formulate your local plans, I encourage you to err on the side of caution. We’ve heard several cautionary tales from those who thought they were following best practices, but in hindsight it was clearly not enough. There have already been some increases in numbers of positive cases in reopened areas; in a situation with a lot of unknowns, please use all caution.
When can you reopen?
Washington State is opening in phases. The maximum speed for ministries to reopen will be the pace the state has set.
Note that some counties are progressing to the next phase faster than others, so be aware of your local status and restrictions.
Currently, most of us are still in Phase One. During this time:
- Essential businesses continue to be open (including food banks and serving those in immediate distress, such as those who have experienced a house fire)
Curb-side pick-up orders are allowed
- If your community service program chooses to distribute goods in this way, all safety procedures should be observed among the volunteers preparing the goods for pick-up as well as transferring the goods to your clients.
Phase 2: For most ACS operations, reopening becomes allowable in Phase Two including retail and clothing banks
- Allowing clients into your store or center is allowable if safe processes can be observed (6’ minimum distance between people, masks and cleanliness). If your space isn’t conducive to good public health safety practices, please wait to reopen at this degree of interaction.
Guidelines for reopening your building (from a department of Labor & Industries communication):
- The COVID-19 virus is not persistent, so cleaning the facility before reentering is only recommended if 1) there were confirmed cases of COVID-19 linked to your facility or 2) occasional visits by people were made without provisions for cleaning.
- Check plumbing and other mechanical systems that have been dormant.
- Check for issues that may have developed during shutdown (e.g. rodent damage or water leaks).
- Run water taps to clear pipes of stagnant water.
- Restart idle HVAC systems to clear dust before occupancy.
Safety Guidelines for Operations:
No matter when you begin operations, it’s of the utmost importance to do so safely. Think through your ministry and strategize how to minimize possible ways to spread infection.
Each program and facility has a unique context (physically and socially) so you need to evaluate and create policies that fit your work environment. To help, here are some common safety and behavior policies being implemented in ACS Centers:
Allow for 6-foot minimum social distancing: This may mean limiting the total number of people in the facility at one time – counting clients and volunteers. Remember that people move in irregular patterns so they will need extra space to get past each other.
- How you will monitor and control that number? Will you serve by appointment only? If you allow clients to form a line at the door, how will you ensure people are 6’ apart in the line?
- All staff and guests are highly recommended to wear face masks or some sort of face covering.
- Avoid cross contamination and excessive handling of items. Volunteers should remain in one task area. If they change tasks, change gloves or sanitize/wash hands between. (Remember, gloves can spread contamination as well as bare hands.)
- Clean all hard, high-touch surfaces at frequent intervals throughout the day. For example, some are choosing to wipe common surfaces and knobs every 30 minutes.
- Check staff and clients for symptoms before they come into the facility. These include elevated temperature, coughing and trouble breathing. I realize these are only a few basic symptoms and people can be asymptomatic or even lie to you about their symptoms, but we are doing all we can.
- If weather allows, prop doors open to allow no-touch entry and exit.
- Install sneeze guards at intake and check-out areas where a volunteer regularly comes face-to-face with clients.
- If you accept credit card, place the card reader where customers can insert and withdraw their card for themselves, rather than handing the cards to the cashier.
- No trying on of clothing.
Set clear expectations: You will have greater cooperation and reduce confusion by making the new policies clear to both staff and clients.
- Meet with your staff to clarify the new policies. Post signs for social distancing and any other safety measures you’re requiring for clients to see before they enter your facility and to remind at key locations inside. Attached are two signs that one Adventist thrift store has created and graciously shared with all of us.
- Do not engage in social commentary in the ministry space. This includes between volunteers as well as between volunteers and clients. Instead, focus on Christ and uplifting conversation.
Additional questions for your leadership team to decide:
- How will donations be received and sorted? Do you have the capacity to hold items long enough for any virus on the donation time to die before sorting? Anyone sorting new donations should take extra precautions in wearing protective gear and not be circulating throughout the rest of the facility.
- Will you limit the number of people within a family group that visits the ministry?
- How will you enforce the safety measures in your facility?
- Who will be responsible for enforcement of safety policies? Both with staff and/or with clients?
These are general recommendations. Your facility, program and other circumstances might call for additional considerations. I highly recommend doing additional research to find your best practices. Two resources I recommend checking with are:
- Your local Health Department: They’re familiar with what is happening in your local county and can give you more tailored perspective on what is happening in your community.
- NARTS: The association for resale professionals. Visit their COVID-19 information page for signage templates and other information: https://www.narts.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=3504
But remember, even they are learning as they go, so they may not be able to give definitive answers.
I urge you to take all measures you reasonably can to ensure the safety of your staff and clients. An outbreak linked to your operations could have a deep impact on the trust the community has in you and jeopardize the ministry.
Our goal is always to treat people with the utmost respect and that means making sure we’re not inviting anybody into a space where they may be in jeopardy. I believe the majority of your clients will appreciate knowing that you’re creating a safe place for them to come to.