1/19/22 – As we all have seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials have frequently updated guidelines and mitigation efforts designed to reduce the spread of the virus as conditions change. The Omicron variant has quickly become the predominant strain of the virus in the United States and its higher transmissibility is fueling a rapid and alarming rise in the COVID case and hospitalization rates around the country.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Omicron variant will likely cause more infections and spread faster than early forms of COVID-19.
- CDC expects that anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.
- More data are needed to know if Omicron infections, and especially reinfections and breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, cause more severe illness or fatalities than infection with other variants.
- Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and fatalities due to infection with the Omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur.
Since July 27, 2021, the CDC’s guidance has included a recommendation for everyone in areas of “Substantial” or “High” transmission to wear a mask in public indoor places, even if they are fully vaccinated. All six counties in our Council’s service area are currently reporting “High” community transmission rates. You can track the community transmission rate for your county using the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker.
Throughout the pandemic, we have followed guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Health in formulating our guidance for Scouting activities. Currently, PA the Department of Health is urging all Pennsylvanians to follow CDC guidance for wearing a mask where required by law, rule, and regulations, including healthcare, local business, and workplace guidance.
We also rely on information from the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America in formulating our guidelines. We actively follow guidance from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the CDC so that we can respond quickly to any changes in their recommendations.
The Omicron Variant Reinforces the Need for Vigilance
The safety of our Scouts, volunteers, employees, and communities continues to be our top priority. We must continue our vigilance to assure that youth and their families are safe while they enjoy the many benefits of Scouting.
We continue to follow the guidance from expert agencies and follow the measures that have become second nature to many – hand hygiene, masks, distancing, meeting in cohorts, and remaining at home if you have symptoms or feel bad.
The critical need of today is for all to understand the rationale for our caution and action. The success of the Scouting program depends on conducting regular meetings and activities in a safe and responsible way.
Please consider the following:
- Within Scouting, there is a diversity of beliefs and concerns about how best to conduct Scouting activities during the pandemic. In general terms, we follow the guidance coming from the PA Department of Health, while listening carefully and considering the concerns of those who feel additional measures should be taken. Units are permitted to establish stricter standards for their unit meetings and activities. We want everyone to feel safe and comfortable.
- Community spread of COVID-19 and daily new positive cases continue at high levels while the prevalence of youth contracting the virus has grown recently, especially with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. An increasing number of children infected with the Omicron variant are requiring hospitalization.
- Vaccines are strongly encouraged for all who are currently eligible (anyone age 5 or over). Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the final required dose.
- On November 29, 2021, CDC strengthened its recommendation on booster doses for individuals who are 18 years and older. Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot either when they are 6 months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or 2 months after their initial J&J vaccine.
- Individuals may choose to continue wearing face coverings even when it is not required.
- Individuals experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and close contacts must still follow state guidelines for testing and isolation.
- Some local and community orders may supersede these guidelines.
Unit Activities & Council Events
- Units must obtain permission from their chartered organization and meeting host (if different than your chartered organization) for all in-person meetings and Scouting events.
- All individuals (regardless of vaccination status) are required to wear face coverings and practice social distancing in areas of “substantial” or “high” community spread as per guidance from the PA Department of Health and the CDC.
- Given the evidence of limited transmission of COVID-19 outdoors, CDC has updated their guidance for outdoor mask use among people who are not fully vaccinated. In general, people do not need to wear masks when outdoors. However, people who are not fully vaccinated are encouraged to wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated. If unvaccinated Scouts and others cannot continuously maintain physical distance during an activity, masks should be worn.
- On January 14, 2022, the CDC updated its masking guidance, recommending that individuals protect themselves and others from COVID-19 by wearing the most protective mask they can that fits well and that they will wear consistently. Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks, and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection.
- All participants should follow posted capacity limits of indoor spaces. Avoid crowded or poorly ventilated indoor activities.
- Outdoor activities and meetings are encouraged wherever possible.
- Participants should isolate if they are sick and should not attend any activity/meeting/event if they, anyone they live with, or anyone that they have recently been around that felt unwell.
- Participants should not attend any activity/meeting/event if they or anyone they live with has been tested for COVID-19 or another illness and does not have the results back yet.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- While the CDC has determined that the risk of contracting COVID-19 by touching surfaces is low, appropriate hygiene measures before and after meetings remain appropriate. Please coordinate with your chartered organization or the meeting host location to follow all appropriate cleaning procedures.
- Screen meeting and activity participants before they enter the meeting location regarding fever, chills, or other COVID-19 symptoms. Do not allow anyone with these symptoms to enter. A good resource developed by the BSA for units to use to screen participants prior to events is available.
- Transportation – encourage transportation by members of the same household, limiting carpooling where possible. If carpooling with any unvaccinated members outside of the same family, masks should be worn.
- When camping, align mats or beds so that campers and leaders/parents sleep head to toe.
- Discourage the sharing of items that are difficult to clean, sanitize, or disinfect. Consider using disposable food service items (utensils and dishes). Self-serve buffet meal service is discouraged – designate one person to be the server.
Note: This article was updated on January 19, 2022.