Dear First Free Church,

It is with great joy that we share some changes to our public health guidelines for mitigating against the spread of Covid-19. We have sacrificed much over the last two years to get to the point we are today. As the frustrations of life during a pandemic continue to plod along in some respects, we urge all parishioners to continue to love one another sacrificially, and interact with one another graciously. In the midst of the changes before us, let us be quick to listen, let us refrain from judging or shaming one another, and let us remember that while we are a diverse bunch, we are united in Christ.

Grace & Peace,
Del & James, on behalf of the Elders

The Quick Facts

  • Chicago’s CDHP is preparing to suspend the city’s masking requirements for most contexts within days.
  • First Free Church will follow suit, and will shift to a mask-optional approach for our campus buildings. This includes any/all gatherings on our church campus.
  • First Free Church will continue to provide seating in the balcony area for those who wish to continue wearing masks and stay at a 6ft distance from other attenders.
  • First Free Church will suspend the check-in requirement on Sunday mornings that facilitated contact tracing in the event of a COVID exposure.
  • First Free Church will continue to monitor COVID metrics and reserves the right to change these policies in ways that serve the best interest of the entire congregation. We will shift back to mask-required guidelines if either: 1) two of the four metrics re-enter the Substantial Transmission category, or 2) City of Chicago reinstates mask mandates.
  • Please stay tuned for a memo with more complete explanation of our strategy for responding to the changes that may continue to occur during the pandemic.

The Details

The Good News

First Free Church has used the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) metrics as guides for our own safety policies. The CDPH has used the metrics in the table below to guide their decisions about mask requirements. When 3 of the 4 categories reached the “Lower Transmission” category (i.e., the blue column), they decided to lift the mask requirement.

The good news is, based on the current CDPH data, it looks like Chicago will lift the mask mandate by the end of February. The mask requirements will be lifted for all except CTA, healthcare and “congregate settings,” (such as long-term care facilities, childcare settings, schools, correctional facilities, etc. See this link for more details.)

What this means for First Free Church

In the spirit of caution, we have generally defined ourselves as in the “congregate setting” category. While this is not required of us by the CDPH, we have felt it best to incorporate additional safety precautions, considering the additional risk posed by singing and the lack of ventilation in the sanctuary.

In the spirit of welcome, we have decided that following the City’s lead on when to suspend mask wearing will serve our church’s need for connectedness. When the CDPH officially lifts their masking mandate, First Free Church will shift to a mask-optional approach for all gatherings on church campus.

Please note that some data suggests that there has been a two week lag time between loosening mask requirements and a new spike in COVID positivity rates and other metrics. Therefore, First Free Church will continue to monitor COVID safety metrics and reserves the right to change our own safety policies in ways that serve the best interest of the entire congregation. We will shift back to mask-required guidelines if either: 1) two of the four metrics re-enter the “Substantial Transmission” category, or 2) City of Chicago reinstates mask mandate. 

Chicago COVID-19 Community Transmission Matrix

Updated 2/25/22, 11:45 AM • http://chi.gov/coviddash

Daily COVID Cases: 268

Test Positivity: 1.3%

Non-ICU Hospital Beds occupied by COVID patients: 222

ICU Beds used by COVID patients: 70

Image source: https://twitter.com/ChiPublicHealth/status/1497266627955474438