LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – California Gov. Gavin Newsom Monday released his guidelines allowing for houses of worship to safely reopen.
The guidance from the California Department of Public Health calls for churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious groups to limit attendance to 25 percent of the building’s capacity, or a maximum of 100 people, whichever is lower.
It also calls for providing temperature screenings at the door and requiring all congregants and staff to wear face coverings, use hand sanitizer frequently and practice physical distancing.
Houses of worship who choose to hold in-person services or meetings should try and do them outdoors whenever possible, DPH said. Services should be shortened to limit the amount of time congregants are spending around one another.
Places of worship should also consider discontinuing singing in situations “where there is increased likelihood for transmission from contaminated exhaled droplets,” the public health department said.
The guidelines directs churches to thoroughly disinfect common areas regularly and avoid sharing items such as prayer books, cushions and prayer rugs or passing around offering plates. If items must be shared, they should be disinfected between each use.
Other changes included “limiting touching for religious and/or cultural purposes…to members of the same household,” discouraging congregants from hugging or shaking hands and removing from service” or finding “low-community touch alternatives for communal/religious water containers.”
This limitations will be in effect for 21 days and then they will be reevaluated by the health department.
“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,” DPH wrote.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to Newsom saying his phased reopening of churches “facially discriminates against religious exercise.”
Several California churches then banded together to sue the state for the right to reopen.
Under Newsom’s four-stage plan to reopen California, places of worship were initially part of stage three, along with hair and nail salons, movie theaters and sporting venues, without fans.
On Friday, President Donald Trump declared houses of worship “essential services,” allowing them to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.