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In-person religious services allowed to resume with restrictions by CA health officials

covid 19 church

Religious ceremonies are now allowed to resume in California, according to state health officials.

Religious organizations also now have an outline of how to move forward amid the coronavirus pandemic.

According to California Department of Public Health, "Under new guidance, places of worship can hold religious services and funerals that limit attendance to 25% of a building’s capacity – or up to 100 attendees, whichever is lower – upon approval by the county department of public health." 

California state officials have now posted new guidelines for churches, places of worship, and other cultural ceremonies.

Some notes from the guidance include:

  • Places of worship must limit attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower. This limitation will be in effect for the first 21-days of a county public health department’s approval of religious services and cultural ceremonies activities at places of worship within their jurisdictions.
  • Upon 21-days, the California Department of Public Health, in consultation with county Departments of Public Health, will review and assess the impact of these imposed limits on public health and provide further direction as part of a phased-in restoration of activities in places of worship.
  • Places of worship should continue to provide services through alternative methods (such as via internet live and/or recorded streaming, telephone, drive-in, etc.) whenever possible.
  • Consider holding in-person meetings and providing in-person services
    outside whenever possible.
  • Shorten services to limit the length of time congregants/visitors spend at facilities whenever possible. This could include limiting speeches, asking congregants/visitors to put on garments at home before arrival, etc.

Each location is required to have a written plan to prevent the risk of spreading coronavirus, as well as a point person to implement it all. Like we've seen as other industries have reopened, training, disinfecting, and physical distancing are key points. Self-service food and beverage events are to be discontinued.

Another consideration addresses a component of many religious ceremonies: singing. "Strongly consider discontinuing singing, group recitation, and other practices and performances where there is increased likelihood for transmission from contaminated exhaled droplets."

Other faith traditions that could encourage the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19, are also listed to be modified, if possible. "Examples are discontinuing kissing of ritual objects, allowing rites to be performed by fewer people, avoiding the use of a common cup, offering communion in the hand instead of on the tongue, providing pre-packed communion items on chairs prior to service..."

The guidelines link to CDC and CDPH information for those practices as well as preparing bodies for funeral ceremonies. In an effort to reduce exposure, "Consider modifying religious or cultural practices when washing or
shrouding bodies of those who have died from COVID-19...

All people participating in these activities must wear disposable gloves and if there will be splashing of fluids, people must use additional protective
equipment including protection for the eyes, nose, and mouth, such as
face shields." Additionally, there are recommendations to limit travel and group sizes for memorial services.

“Together, our actions have helped bend the curve and reduce infections in our state. As sectors continue to open with changes that aim to lower risk, remember that COVID-19 is still present in our communities,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, State Public Health Officer and Director of the California Department of Public Health said in a news release sent to News Channel 3. “As more of us may be leaving our homes, keeping physical distance, wearing face coverings in public, and washing your hands frequently are more important than ever to help protect yourself and those around you.”

On Friday, President Trump announced churches can reopen this Memorial Day weekend, calling houses of worship “essential.”

News Channel 3 found one Coachella Valley church that opened. Church Unlimited in Indio opened its doors this weekend to welcome the congregation back in addition to continuing their online service.

Sacred Heart in Palm Desert was one of the churches not ready to reopen just yet. Reverend Monsignor Howard Lincoln told News Channel 3 they might be ready to open up next weekend.

Other churches in the area, such as Southwest Church in Indian Wells, continue to operate online-only.

Desert Springs Church, also in Palm Desert, said they need a few more weeks to prepare safety and protection procedures.

News Channel 3 is reaching out to Riverside County officials for an update on any limitations locally. Right now, a county spokesperson is deferring information to the state until local guidance is available.

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