State Releases Guidelines for In-person Services at Places of Worship

Guidelines for churches and places of worship in California to resume in-person services were released Monday by the state's Department of Public Health.

The department announced the statewide reopening of places of worship for religious services and in-store retail shopping. Modifications are required to keep Californians safe and to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Under the revised stay at home order and the new guidelines, places of worship can hold religious services and funerals but must limit attendance to 25% of a building’s capacity – or up to 100 attendees, whichever is lower – upon approval by the local county department of public health. 

in addition to limiting the size of services, the new guidelines call for multiple measures that include physical distancing, wearing face coverings, sanitizing all items and surfaces that are touched by more than one person and recommended changes in certain worship practices.

According to the Department of Public Health, "This guidance does not obligate places of worship to resume in-person activity. Further, it is strongly recommended that places of worship continue to facilitate remote services and other related activities for those who are vulnerable to COVID19 including older adults and those with co-morbidities".

To reopen for religious services and funerals, places of worship must:

  • 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. 

The department also announced that the existing guidance for retailers, previously allowed for counties, like San Diego County, approved to advance in the reopening process, now applies statewide. Retail can now open for in-store shopping statewide. The guidelines help reduce the risk for workers and customers. However, retail does not include personal services such as hair salons, nail salons and barbershops.

The Department of Public Health statement also says that in consultation with local departments of public health, in 21 days, will review and assess the impact of the religious services guidelines and provide further direction as part of a phased-in restoration of activities. This 21-day interval accounts for seven days for religious communities to prepare and reopen in addition to a 14-day incubation period of COVID-19.


(Photo credit Getty Images)

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