As some of us gathered for the Summer Solstice Sesshin at Dai Bosatsu Zendo in June, we realized one individual came to the sesshin after testing positive for COVID. Fortunately, this was recognized shortly after arrival, but not before a number of other participants were exposed. Regrettably, it was necessary to ask the individual to leave. We did our best to care for this in an open manner, and were able to move forward in practice. Additionally, we offered to assist anyone else who would choose to leave, though no one chose to do so.
Throughout the sesshin, we kept the channel of communication open, inviting the expression of concerns publicly as well as privately, and reporting on the results of our testing. Despite the uncomfortable intrusion of COVID, and perhaps because we openly incorporated this into the process, the sesshin proceeded as intended. To the best of our knowledge, none of the participants became ill with COVID at the sesshin or shortly afterward. As expressed in the concluding check-in, the sesshin was a valued experience for all who participated.
Nevertheless, this was the stated policy for the retreat:
This retreat is limited to persons who are fully vaccinated for Covid. Participants will be required to take a Covid test upon arrival.
In this case, the stated COVID policy was not followed. While the policy could have been stated more clearly, we failed to fully implement the intended requirement that everyone was to have a negative COVID test before entering the zendo facilities. We see this as an organizational failure and are committed to correcting it.
We know there are different views about COVID within our community, and this statement is not a commentary about these views. This communication represents our commitment to have clearly stated policies around safety issues, such as COVID, and to consistently follow these policies. This way, our participants can make informed choices with confidence.
The Hollow Bones Zen Board of Directors and Abbot believe it is important to acknowledge the breach of the stated COVID policy forthrightly, rather than sit quietly in the great relief that no further misfortune occurred as a result. We see it as an ethical commitment as members and leaders of the Sangha to admit a failure rather than be unapproachable or quietly allow it to pass.
We deeply apologize to the sangha for our failure in this matter. We will learn from this and are fully committed to not allowing such a failure to occur again.
We have subsequently had a second experience with COVID at our Sitting Like a Stone retreat in July. This time, the policy for this specific retreat was followed:
Participants in this retreat are either fully vaccinated for Covid-19 or must test negative for Covid-19 upon arrival.
One individual arrived with upper respiratory symptoms and tested negative for COVID. They were tested again later in the retreat and tested positive, at which point they left. In this retreat also, there was open communication and the option for people to leave was offered. The remaining participants chose to stay. The retreat proceeded and was deeply impactful for the participants. Seven additional people who were in attendance subsequently tested positive for COVID and/or came down with an illness. These people were supported and cared for. At this point, we believe all have recovered.
We see that our policy needs to be revised in response to these two situations and our evolving understanding of the current COVID situation. The revised policy will be more clearly articulated and implemented. Further, we must use good judgment in carrying out our policy with wisdom and compassion as events unfold. We will have a new policy in place for our next in-person event.
If you have concerns or wish to offer input, please contact me.