In-person church services are now allowed in California — with limitations.
Governor Gavin Newson announced on Monday churches in the state would be allowed to reopen to hold services. Previously under the state guidelines, churches were allowed to have drive-thru services but couldn't hold indoor services.
The new guidelines still call for county public health departments to give the go-ahead for in-person church services. The guidelines also call for attendance to be limited to 25 percent of building capacity or a maximum of 100 — whichever is lower.
Newsom said he has been talking to faith leaders across the state on how to resume in-person church services while protecting the health.
“It’s so important that folks understand we deeply understand, admire, the faith devotion,” Newsom said. “We look forward to churches reopening in a safe and responsible manner.”
On Sunday, public health officials announced COVID-19 cases that happened as a result of unauthorized church services held in the state.
It was announced six more people who participated in a Mother's Day service at an Assembly of God Church in Mendocino County had contracted COVID-19. That brought the total to nine the number of people who participated in the service and contracted COVID-19.
Butte County health officials also said two of 180 people who attended a Mother's Day service in Oroville tested positive for COVID-19.
There have been numerous challenges to Newsom's ban on in-person church services, but the state's 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld Newsom's ban in a 2-1 ruling. Justice Robert Jackson wrote if a “(c)ourt does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.’”
And while in-person church services will be allowed, the state is still “strongly recommending” churches to offer remote services for those who are vulnerable to COVID-19.
Those who attend church services are also discouraged from hand-holding, hugging or kissing. Churches are also being encouraged to continue to hold drive-thru services or services outside whenever possible.
In addition, churches are encouraged to shorten the times of services, limit the time people spend at the church and limit the time of visitation before and after services.
Churches are also asked to thoroughly sanitize their facilities and conduct health screenings of their employees. And people attending church should sit at least six feet apart from one another.
Like businesses, places of worship will be asked to thoroughly sanitize their facilities, conduct health screenings on their employees and ensure that congregants stay six feet apart from one another.'
The guidelines also call for all those who attend church services to wear face coverings.
As far as choirs in churches, the guidelines state to “Strongly consider discontinuing singing, group recitation, and other practices and performances where there is increased likelihood for transmission from contaminated exhaled droplets.
“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.In particular, activities such as singing and group recitation negate the risk-reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing.”
The guidelines also state churches shouldn't resume all other services they provide outside of worship they offer such as childcare or schooling. The guidelines also call for churches not to hold such activities as potlucks as they state churches shouldn't be used for food preparation and service.
As far as communion, the guidelines call for churches not to allow people to drink from the same cup and not to place communion items on the tongue. In addition the guidelines encourage churches to have pre-packed communion items ready to be used before services begin.
The full set of guidelines can be viewed here: https://covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-places-of-worship.pdf