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Newsom issues guidelines for California religious places to reopen

-Editorial

Places of worship have been closed for nearly two months in California leaving many people without a place to worship and congregate.

California released the guidelines for places of worship on May 25. This guidance does not obligate places of worship to resume in-person activity but it gives them an idea of how to reactivate their congregation.

It is strongly recommended that places of worship continue to facilitate remote services and other related activities for those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 including older adults and those with co-morbidities.

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.

Places of worship must, therefore, limit attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower. This limitation will be in effect for the first 21-days of a county public health department’s approval of religious services and cultural ceremonies activities at places of worship within their jurisdictions.

Upon 21-days, the California Department of Public Health, in consultation with county Departments of Public Health, will review and assess the impact of these imposed limits on public health and provide further direction as part of a phased-in restoration of activities in places of worship.

It is recommended to discontinue offering self-service food and beverages. Do not hold potlucks or similar family-style eating and drinking events that increase the risk of cross-contamination. If food and beverages must be served, provide items in single-serve, disposable containers whenever possible. Employees or volunteers serving food should wash hands frequently and wear disposable gloves and face coverings.

Strongly consider discontinuing singing, group recitation, and other practices and performances where there is an increased likelihood for transmission. Modify practices such as limiting the number of people reciting or singing, ensuring physical distancing greater than six feet between people, or opt to celebrate these practices outside with physical distancing, etc., if these practices cannot be discontinued.

Consider modifying practices that are specific to particular faith traditions that might encourage the spread of COVID-19.

Examples are discontinuing kissing of ritual objects, allowing rites to be performed by fewer people, avoiding the use of a common cup, offering communion in the hand instead of on the tongue, providing pre-packed communion items on chairs prior to service, etc., in accordance with CDC guidelines.

Consideration for Funerals

Consider reduced visitor capacity and limit visitation times at funerals, wakes, etc., if possible. Follow all cleaning and disinfection measures as described in this guidance. Whenever possible, remind visitors to maintain physical distance from each other, from staff and volunteers, and from the deceased.

Consider modifying religious or cultural practices when washing or shrouding bodies of those who have died from COVID-19, in accordance with guidance from CDPH and the CDC. If washing the body or shrouding are important religious or cultural practices, work with funeral home staff and families to reduce exposure as much as possible.

All people participating in these activities must wear disposable gloves and if there will be splashing of fluids, people must use additional protective equipment including protection for the eyes, nose, and mouth, such as face shields.

Consult and comply with local guidance regarding limits on gathering sizes, travel, holding funerals for those who died from COVID-19, etc.

Consider other recommendations and modifications of services related to places of worship outlined above, as applicable for funeral services.

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