LOS ANGELES (CFP) — Religious services in California will look much different under rules unveiled Monday that limit attendance to 100 people and recommend worshippers wear masks, limit singing and refrain from shaking hands or hugging.
The state released guidance under which county health departments can approve the reopening of churches, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship. They have been closed since Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
It’s not immediately known how soon in-person services will resume. Counties that are having success controlling the virus are likely to move quickly. Others with outbreaks — such as Los Angeles County, which has about 60% of California’s roughly 3,800 deaths — may choose to delay.
The guidelines ask worshippers to wear masks, avoid sharing prayer books or prayer rugs and skip the collection plate. They also say to avoid large gatherings for holidays, weddings and funerals and warn that activities such as singing or group recitation “negate” the benefits of social distancing.
The guidelines say even with physical distancing, in-person worship carries a higher risk of transmitting the virus and increasing the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths and recommend houses of worship shorten services.
Each county will have to adopt rules for services to resume within their jurisdictions and then the guidelines will be reviewed by state health officials after 21 days. The guidelines include limiting gatherings to 25% of building capacity or 100 people, whichever is lower.
In Los Angeles County, Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz of the Shul on the Beach in Venice Beach said he hopes his congregation can meet for this week’s Shavuot holiday, to celebrate when Jews received the Torah.
The congregation will have to figure out how to provide temperature checks and provide a place for individual prayer books and shawls. Orthodox Jews do not use technology during the Sabbath and may not carry most personal items.
Some church leaders aren’t eager to reopen. The Rev. Amos Brown, pastor of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and head of the local NAACP chapter, led a protest Monday against reopening.
“We are not going to be rushing back to church,” he said by phone, noting that many leaders of his denomination have been sickened or died nationwide. Freedom of religion is “not the freedom to kill folks, not the freedom to put people in harm’s way. That’s insane,” he said.
Many have been eagerly waiting an announcement on religious services after Newsom began relaxing constraints on stores and other secular outlets as part of a four-phase plan to reopen the economy.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange announced last week that it is phasing in public Masses beginning June 14, starting with restricted numbers of worshippers. At first, choirs will be banned, fonts won’t contain holy water and parishioners won’t perform rituals where they must touch each other.
“We know that God is with us, but at the same time we have to be careful and make sure that we protect each other in this challenging time,” Bishop Kevin Vann said Friday.
Some 47 of the state’s 58 counties have received permission to move deeper into the reopening by meeting standards for controlling the virus. The state on Monday cleared the way for in-store shopping to resume statewide with social distancing restrictions, although counties get to decide whether to permit it.