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State Officials Announce Update to Guidelines for Places of Worship

-Editorial

The California Department of Public Health Officials released interim updates to the State’s guidelines for places of worship. Consistent with a recent court order, religious services can now resume indoors with modifications. Given that Imperial County is in the purple tier, indoor worship activities must be limited to 25% of capacity. 

The Imperial County Health Officer Order has been updated to reflect the updated guidance for religious service. However, as a protective measure against the spread of COVID-19, the order prohibits singing, chanting, shouting, and playing of wind instruments (any instrument played by mouth, such as a trumpet or clarinet) in religious services as well as in any public or private venue, both indoors and outdoors. The updated order is available on the Imperial County Public Health Department website, icphd.org.

“As more of the restrictions that have been put in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted, we must still be mindful of safety precautions that will continue us down the path of improvement,” stated Dr. Stephen Munday, Imperial County Health Officer. “It is important that we not let our guard down and continue to practice the measures that have been proven to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

The California Department of Public Health plans to release final guidance once the court order has been reviewed further. Interim updates to the guidelines for places of worship are available on the covid19.ca.gov website.

In the most significant legal victory against California’s Covid-19 health orders, the supreme court issued rulings late Friday in two cases where churches argued the restrictions violated their religious liberty. The justices said for now California can’t continue with a ban on indoor church services, but it can limit attendance to 25 percent of a building’s capacity and restrict singing and chanting inside.

California had put the restrictions in place because the virus is more easily transmitted indoors, and singing releases tiny droplets that can carry the disease.

South Bay United Pentecostal Church, a 600-seat congregation near San Diego, had filed an emergency request asking the high court to block enforcement of some COVID-19 provisions, including a prohibition against all indoor services in some parts of the state as well attendance limits in others. The 1,250-seat Harvest Rock Church had filed a similar challenge to the state’s rules.  

A 6-3 majority blocked the state from prohibiting indoor services in counties with the greatest spread of COVID-19, but it allowed attendance caps based on the size of the building to stand. The state may also continue to prohibit singing and chanting during those services, the court said. 

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