The California Department of Public Health has issued guidelines for reopening places of worship during the coronavirus pandemic.
Among other things, religious leaders are asked to “strongly consider” discontinuing singing and group recitation where transmission of the virus through exhaled droplets is increased.
Sharing items like prayer books, prayer rugs, and hymn books is also discouraged in the recommendations. Single use or digital copies are suggested as alternatives. Potlucks should be discontinued and communion is suggested to be modified by offering in the hand rather than on the tongue.
The new guidelines came days after President Donald Trump called for places of worship across the country to reopen over the Memorial Day weekend as restrictions in a few states still prevented religious services from taking place in person.
Bans on in-person religious gatherings have been in place in the state of California for months due to the coronavirus. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban in a ruling over the weekend after a church in Chula Vista sued the state for preventing them from meeting.
Despite the public health order, many religious institutions continued to hold services, resulting in a few instances of transmission of the virus among attendees and religious leaders and even deaths.
New guidelines for services
The guidance issued Monday does not require any religious or cultural worship center to reopen for in person services and also says that each county must approve the plan before reopenings can occur.
Under the new guidelines, churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship will be allowed to welcome only 25% of their total capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower, to religious services and funerals.
“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 COVID-19,” the release said.
The new guidelines will be in effect for 21 days after a county public health department approves reopening. After the 21 days are up the California Department of Public Health will consult with local county health departments to assess the impact of the reopening and adjust their guidance accordingly.
Changing how people worship
Among the measures recommended by the health department to prevent the spread of Covid-19, singing, kissing of ritual objects and the sharing of prayer or hymn books, and prayer rugs are discouraged.
Religious leaders should consider designating staff to direct guests to meeting rooms rather than hanging out in lobbies and finding people seats that are distanced from other congregants.
Houses of worship are encouraged to hold outdoor services when possible and reconfigure seating arrangements to allow for six feet of physical distance between households, the guidelines said.
Shorter services, additional meeting times, and reservation systems are also suggested to keep worshipers safe.
Frequent cleaning of the high traffic areas is also recommended, as is frequent hand washing by employees who work in the facilities and service goers.