Category Archives: Religious services

Governor’s latest COVID-19 announcement – religious services, cultural ceremonies, protests and retail

Counties Statewide Can Reopen Places of Worship for Religious Services and Retail Stores

Press Release May 25, 2020
Number: NR20-100

  • Modifications Required to Protect Californians against COVID-19
  • Places of Worship Should Limit Attendance to 25% of Total Capacity or a Maximum of 100 Attendees
  • Retail Guidance for In-Store Shopping, Already in Place for Certain Counties, Now Applies Statewide

SACRAMENTO – The California Department of Public Health today announced the statewide reopening of places of worship for religious services and in-store retail shopping. Modifications are required to keep Californians safe and limit the spread of COVID-19. Subject to approval by county public health departments, all retail stores can reopen for in-store shopping under previously issued guidelines. Under new guidance, places of worship can hold religious services and funerals that limit attendance to 25% of a building’s capacity – or up to 100 attendees, whichever is lower – upon approval by the county department of public health.

While the vast majority of large gatherings remain prohibited under the state’s stay-at-home order, the Department of Public Health has released guidelines for in-person protests and events designed for political expression. The guidance limits attendance to 25% of an area’s maximum occupancy – or up to 100 attendees.

“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,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, State Public Health Officer and Director of the California Department of Public Health. “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.”

The new (PDF) guidance for religious services and cultural ceremonies encourages organizations to continue online services and activities, including to protect individuals who are most at risk for more severe COVID-19, including older adults and people with specific medical conditions.

To reopen for religious services and funerals, places of worship must:

  • Establish and implement a COVID-19 prevention plan for every location, train staff on the plan, and regularly evaluate workplaces for compliance.
  • Train employees and volunteers on COVID-19, including how to prevent it from spreading and which underlying health conditions may make individuals more susceptible to contracting the virus.
  • Implement cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
  • Set physical distancing guidelines.
  • Recommend that staff and guests wear cloth face coverings, and screen staff for temperature and symptoms at the beginning of their shifts.
  • Set parameters around or consider eliminating singing and group recitations. These activities dramatically increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission. For this reason, congregants engaging in singing, particularly in the choir, and group recitation should wear face coverings at all times and when possible, these activities should be conducted outside with greater than 6-foot distancing.

The existing (PDF) guidance for retailers, previously allowed for counties approved to advance in the reopening process, now applies statewide. Retail can now open for in-store shopping statewide. The guidelines help reduce the risk for workers and customers. Retail does not include personal services such as hair salons, nail salons and barbershops.

In 21 days, the Department of Public Health, in consultation with local departments of public health, will review and assess the impact of the religious services guidelines and provide further direction as part of a phased-in restoration of activities. This 21-day interval accounts for seven days for religious communities to prepare and reopen in addition to a 14-day incubation period of COVID-19.

More information about the state’s COVID-19 guidance is on the California Department of Public Health’s Guidance web page.

More information about reopening California and what individuals can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, visit Coronavirus (COVID-19) in California.

Additional Resources

Benicia retired pastor to friends and neighbors: DON’T GO TO RELIGIOUS SERVICES!

[Editor: Well, if you didn’t know, I’m the retired pastor.  And I don’t even know if any of Benicia’s anti-mask-don’t-tread-on-me folks are planning to attend religious services.  But if they are… DON’T JOIN THEM, DON’T GO!  The story below is living, coughing, deadly proof from nearby.  Oh, and… most faith communities are streaming worship, and the Governor has just today issued new guidelines for very limited religious gatherings, including funerals.  – R.S.]

More cases connected with worship services in Mendocino, Butte counties

San Francisco Chronicle, by Bob Egelko , Kate Galbraith and Lauren Hernández May 24, 2020
Bishop Marc Andrus bows before the altar while rehearsing virtual Easter Sunday service at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, April 12, 2020.
Bishop Marc Andrus bows before the altar while rehearsing virtual Easter Sunday service at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, April 12, 2020. Photo: Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

As religious leaders await new rules from Gov. Gavin Newsom that could allow houses of worship to reopen with social-distancing adjustments, concern is mounting in Mendocino and Butte counties as more coronavirus cases tied to churches there have emerged.

Mendocino County health officer Dr. Noemi Doohan said Friday that her county’s six most recent confirmed cases were all connected to an outbreak at Redwood Valley Assembly of God. The county had previously reported that three people — including the pastor — who participated in a live-streamed Mother’s Day service at the church had contracted the virus. Most parishioners did not attend the service in person.

“When we have an outbreak of such a large magnitude, it’s very concerning because we know that these individuals have had other contacts since contracting the disease,” Doohan said.

In addition, a second case out of a Butte County Mother’s Day church service has emerged, according to the Chico Enterprise-Record. More than 180 people attended the service, which was held in violation of the state’s shelter-in-place orders. One attendee had tested positive not long after the service. On Thursday, county Public Information Officer Lisa Almaguer said a second person tested positive, the Enterprise-Record reported.

Butte County has 34 coronavirus cases. Dr. Andy Miller, the county health officer, said in a video update Friday that Butte officials have seen a “pretty dramatic increase in cases,” though he did not say whether any additional cases were connected with the church.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to announce a schedule Monday for the resumption of in-person services, with social-distancing adjustments. But that is not soon enough for some California pastors, who want to be able to hold services at a time of rising spiritual needs.

On Friday, a divided federal appeals court refused to order Newsom to allow in-person services at this stage of the pandemic.

Over a dissent by an appointee of President Trump, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied an injunction sought by a Pentecostal church and its pastor in San Diego County, who argued that Newsom was violating freedom of religion by refusing to allow churches and other places of worship to reopen.

Upholding a federal judge’s refusal to allow immediate reopening of the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, the appeals court said Newsom’s decisions have not selectively targeted or burdened religious conduct.

“We’re dealing here with a highly contagious and often fatal disease for which there is presently no known cure,” Judges Barry Silverman and Jacqueline Nguyen said in the 2-1 ruling.

In dissent, Judge Daniel Collins said the state was probably violating the religious freedom of the church, its pastor and members.

Newsom’s defenders are making an “extraordinary claim that the current emergency gives the governor the power to restrict any and all constitutional rights, as long as he has acted in ‘good faith,’” Collins said.