The state of California announced new guidelines Monday allowing places of worship to resume operating during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Places of worship will be required to limit service attendance to a quarter of the building’s maximum occupancy, with a hard limit of 100 attendees. All attendees and staff must have their temperature checked before entering the building.
Churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship are not obligated to resume in-person services and state officials urged them to continue virtual religious services whenever possible.
“Even with adherence to physical distancing, convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households to practice a personal faith carries a relatively higher risk for widespread transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and may result in increased rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, especially among more vulnerable populations,” the state Department of Public Health wrote in announcing the new guidelines.
Despite the announcement, a group of black religious and civil rights leaders gathered at San Francisco’s City Hall Monday to call for churches to stick to virtual worship services until they can ensure the safety of their congregations. The group noted the significant number of victims of the virus among black clergy and members of church congregations, and emphasized the need for greater testing, medical services, K-12 educational services and technology help in the black community.
“Worship is not relegated to a place; Jesus said the Kingdom of God is in you,” Rev. Dr. Amos C. Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP and pastor of Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, said in a statement before the rally. “Pastors of all faiths and in all communities should take advantage of technology to keep in touch with their members, and not make snap judgments about the pandemic, but follow the science on re-opening.”
The use of high-touch items like offering plates and shared prayer books is discouraged and facilities will be required to rearrange seating to allow six feet of space between service attendees.
High-traffic areas like lobbies, chapels, halls and offices should also be cleaned frequently, according to the guidelines.
Large religious service events and gatherings like concerts, potlucks and holiday celebrations are still banned in the state’s public health and safety guidelines, according to the CDPH.
Monday’s announcement came three days after President Donald Trump declared houses of worship “essential” and called for them to open in time for Memorial Day weekend. Trump claimed he would override governors who wanted churches to remain closed in deference to the coronavirus.
The full list of new guidelines for religious services and places of worship can be found at covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-places-of-worship.pdf.