California: Places of worship can reopen; in-store shopping allowed

Elevate Church members gather for a service. Elevate Church is hosting their family conference to remind families it takes a tribe and to restore families to God’s design, one of joy, peace, love and unity. Courtesy photo.
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Places of worship across California can now reopen under newly released safety guidelines and in-store shopping is now permitted, the state Department of Public Health announced Monday. 

Health officials provided breakdown houses of worship must abide by in order safely open and help limit the spread of COVID-19.

The protocol for religious services and funerals includes: 

  • Worship sites must limit attendance to 25% of a building’s capacity, or up 100 attendees upon approval by counties’ public health departments. 
  • Implement measures to ensure physical distancing of at least six feet between workers, staff and congregants, such as visual cues, reconfiguring seating and standing areas and limiting seating to alternate rows
  • Singing, group recitation and other performances are strongly discouraged where there is an increased likelihood for transmission from contaminated exhaled droplets. 
  • Consider shortening services to limit gathering times. Virtual services are still strongly advised. 
  • Enhance cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
  • Recommend that attendees wear face coverings and screen staff for symptoms at the beginning of their shifts. 

“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,” Dr. Sonia Angell, state public health officer and director of the state Department of Public Health, said in a prepared statement. “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.”

In the Santa Clarita Valley, several pastors of 17 local places of worship were awaiting the state’s guidelines to reopen, particularly in learning how many of their congregants would be able to attend, according to David Hegg of Grace Baptist Church, which has a congregation of about 2,500. 

They are expected to discuss the state’s protocol to decide how and when to reopen their churches. 

“We hope to find out Monday and on Tuesday afternoon 17 of us pastors will be talking about these updates,” said Hegg on Friday, who added that some have decided to reopen on Father’s Day, with others waiting until Los Angeles County’s targeted countywide reopening date of July 4 and others planning to do so at a slower and more gradual timeline. 

California’s announcement on Monday comes after a federal appeals court upheld Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stance on continuing to prohibit in-person religious services, rejecting the argument that his decision impeded with First Amendment rights. 

In 21 days, the state Department of Public Health is expected to work with local public health departments and monitor the impact of the guidelines and provide further direction as part of a phased-in restoration of activities, according to the Governor’s Office in a news release Monday. 

The state also announced that retail can now offer in-person shopping while implementing safety measures. Large gatherings are still prohibited under the state’s lockdown directives. Barbershops and hair and nail salons must remain closed. 

Los Angeles County is expected to amend its health order to allow for in-person retail shopping as issued by the state, according to county Supervisor Janice Hahn. 

In a Monday statement on Twitter, she said, “Thank you, Governor Newsom. As we continue to battle this virus, this policy will make all the difference to the small businesses in our communities that are struggling to survive the crisis.” 

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