The Center’s working group on COVID-19, which includes two physicians, met again this morning to discuss ongoing efforts to limit Sangha exposure and to outline courses of action to take when (not “if”) the number of local cases rises. Some of the following restrictions are quite severe, but this is the time, everyone agreed, to isolate more rather than less. Our actions are in line with those of local public officials: After a second Monroe County resident was diagnosed with the virus, the County Executive today declared a state of emergency and also announced that all public schools in the County are closed until further notice.
Use of the zendo will remain restricted to staff and residents until further notice. Half of the mats there have been removed, to ensure “social distancing,” with each staff member assigned to a particular mat. Unfortunately, we can’t allow anyone living outside the Center (other than those on staff) to come in to join the staff even for the noon sittings or to sit informally off-hours. All are encouraged, however, to “join” us via live streaming.
The risk involved in outside people sitting in the zendo is greater than their coming in at other times of day, so during regular office hours members may still drop in if they feel they need to (but not to join the staff for work). We’re not under quarantine – yet. Likewise, the staff are not barred from going out, but they have been urged not to do so except for walks or other very safe trips.
During the week of the cancelled March sesshin, the staff will follow an expanded schedule of daily sitting to the extent that their work commitments allow it. A similar increase of zazen could start as soon as next week. Having been dealt lemons, we’ll make some lemonade.
Until the Center re-opens for sittings, Roshi will come up with a way, in lieu of dokusan, for his students to check in with him remotely. These remote dokusans will be scheduled outside of the usual formal sittings. Look for more details in a Sangha email next Tuesday.
At this morning’s meeting we also came up with a detailed protocol for dealing in-house with any sign of illness among staff and when to get the Health Department and other medical professionals involved. Also, our resident trainees – the majority of whom are young and healthy – have offered to be of service to others in the local Sangha in whatever way they can. Please do take them up on this offer.
To sum up, the Center is taking the COVID risk very, very seriously to slow the spread of it in our community. While hoping for the best, we are preparing for the worst. Like all things, this threat is marked by a beginning, a middle, and an end. Meanwhile, to the extent that we can help prevent a sharp spike in infections that would overwhelm hospitals and other medical services, we’ll be helping to make sure that treatment is available for those most in need of it. And this will save lives.