Guidelines to opening meetings

Dear Friends in the Fellowship,

We know that many members are excited by the prospect of meeting in-person again-and, as such, there may be a temptation to rush to re-open meetings. San Mateo County Fellowship has put together suggestions and guidelines for your groups to consider when making an informed group conscience about when and how to re-open safely once our respective jurisdictions allow it.

Fortunately, newcomers have been getting sober in Zoom meetings. What this pandemic has taught us is that there are many ways to connect—not just locally, but internationally—and there are lots of ways to carry the message. While we all miss meeting safely in person, we have more tools available to us to stay sober. We can attend meetings anywhere in the world; we can invite speakers from afar to chair our meetings; we can attend workshops, round-ups, and other events from the comfort of our homes. Phone and online meetings do not replace the need for in-person meetings, but they’ve added to all the ways that we can carry the message of hope and recovery to still suffering alcoholics and old-timers, alike. So, our decisions to re-open should be made carefully and deliberately.  A higher power guides us through this process if we ask for help.

In addition to suggestions for groups to consider, there are also ‘musts’ that groups need to abide by to stay within the regulations and mandates of our state. While there are no ‘musts’ in the A.A. program, there are legal musts in the larger community. Fortunately, our program of recovery has taught us how to be responsible citizens both in A.A. and the world.

To protect A.A., groups should be mindful of our Traditions. Tradition 1 tells us “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.” With regard to making group decisions, “Each group is autonomous.” However, the second part of Tradition 4 is just as important: “except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.” These traditions remind us that we must ensure that our group decisions do not negatively impact our fellow members or A.A. as a whole, and that we as individuals act in ways that ensure our common welfare. Traditions 1 and 4 are important now more than ever. We have to consider the health and well-being of other A.A. members, and we need to protect the positive reputation and goodwill of A.A. in the community
A.A. must abide by the mandates of local jurisdictions where our groups meet. As an organization and as individuals, we are not exempt from the law.

Here is a list of things that should be considered before deciding to resume in-person meetings:

  • Groups must have permission from their churches and facilities to resume meeting on the premises—either inside or on the grounds or parking lot. 
  • Groups should be aware of the state and county restrictions and guidelines churches and facilities have in place, as well as each facility’s individual requirements. Here are links to: SM County Public Health Requirements for places of worship, and  Public health safety guidelines recommended for faith-based institutions by the US CDC. These include:
    • Face coverings should be worn by all persons at all times.
    • The elderly or those in high-risk groups are strongly discouraged from attending in person meetings and encouraged to participate virtually.
    • Attendance is limited to a maximum of 50% of building capacity or 200 individuals, whichever is lower. YELLOW TIER!!
    • Social distancing of at least 6 feet required.
    • Persons are prohibited from eating or drinking anywhere inside the place of worship/meeting place
    • If restrooms are open, the restroom will be cleaned between uses.
    • Where lines may form at the entry and exits of the place of worship, marking six-foot increments at a minimum to establish where individuals should stand to maintain adequate social distancing.
    • Aisles in the place of worship are designated as one-way to support social distancing.
    • Sanitizing contact surfaces before and after each meeting, including tables and chairs.
    • Disinfectant, hand sanitizer, masks, and soap and water must be available.
    • Modify the methods used to receive financial contributions. Consider a stationary collection box, or electronic methods of collection instead of shared collection trays or baskets.
    • The sharing of communal items, such as books and literature, is strongly discouraged.
  • Contact Tracing:
  • If a group member is diagnosed with COVID-19, the health department begins the process of contact tracing.  In order to facilitate this, they will be requesting a list of those who attended any meetings with the person diagnosed.
    • To ensure our common welfare, one suggested contingency plan can be accomplished effectively while maintaining everyone’s anonymity.
      • Groups could list attendees by first name and phone number for each meeting. That would make it easier to alert everyone about the potential for infection should someone get ill or if someone is tested. Group should later destroy each meeting list after enough time has passed.
  • When a contact tracer asks the infected person who he or she has been in contact with, the sick member can say, “I attended ‘spiritual meetings’ or ‘community meetings’ (or use another generic term) that meets at ‘such-and-such’ church. Here’s the phone number of the primary contact for that meeting who can put you in touch with everyone else that was at that spiritual/community meeting on that day.” The contact tracer would then call the group secretary or primary contact to explain that someone from the meeting at the church has tested positive for COVID-19.The group secretary can give the list of first names and phone numbers to the contact tracer who would be in charge of notifying everyone. OR, the secretary could notify everyone. Either way, no one has to know the name of the person who is sick (since HIPAA would prohibit the contact tracer from naming the patient) and no one would have to say anything about being a member of A.A. 


  • Some groups have talked about the possibility of combining in-person meetings with Zoom meetings to form a “hybrid” meeting. If your group is leaning toward this option, here are some considerations:
    • Is everyone at the in-person meeting comfortable participating in a video Zoom meeting?
    • Would it be better to disable the video capability but allow the phone function?

Finally, our sincere thanks to all of you who forward this message to your A.A. friends and home group members in the fellowship. We look forward to seeing you one of these days soon, and we wish everyone continued sobriety and good health. 

San Mateo County Central Office