LOS ANGELES — California says churches can resume in-person services, but the congregations will be limited to less than 100 and worshippers should wear masks, avoid sharing prayer books and skip the collection plate.
The state Department of Public Health released a framework Monday for county health officials to permit houses of worship to reopen.
Most have been limited to online and remote services since March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order took effect to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The health department says places of worship must do the following in order to reopen for religious services and funerals:
· Establish and implement a COVID-19 prevention plan for every location, train staff on the plan, and regularly evaluate workplaces for compliance.
· Train employees and volunteers on COVID-19, including how to prevent it from spreading and which underlying health conditions may make individuals more susceptible to contracting the virus.
· Implement cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
· Set physical distancing guidelines.
· Recommend that staff and guests wear cloth face coverings, and screen staff for temperature and symptoms at the beginning of their shifts.
· Set parameters around or consider eliminating singing and group recitations. These activities dramatically increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission. For this reason, congregants engaging in singing, particularly in the choir, and group recitation should wear face coverings at all times and when possible, these activities should be conducted outside with greater than 6-foot distancing.
These loosened restrictions come after the head of the federal Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division told Newsom that his plan to reopen California discriminates against churches. In a letter, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said that despite the pandemic, Newsom should allow some in-person worship.
Newsom has been facing pressure by many to open churches for in-person worship. Several thousand churches had vowed to defy Newsom’s order on May 31, which is Pentacost Sunday, a major holiday for many Christians.
With progress being made, Newsom and health officials have also been working together to slowly relax restrictions for restaurants, stores and other businesses.
"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. "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."