WILLITS, 5/26/20 — Governor Gavin Newsom released new shelter-in-place rules yesterday, allowing for the resumption of religious gatherings at places of worship, with certain safety restrictions in place. The new rules also allow for in-store retail shopping across the state. What’s more, while large gatherings remain banned as part of the continued effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease, the new rules do allow for gatherings for the purpose of political protest, and set up guidelines to attempt to make such events safer.
However, though the rules have changed at the state level it will take a few days for those to trickle down to the county level, as the county’s public health officer, Dr. Noemi Doohan, and county counsel work to craft a new local public health order.
In a brief interview CEO Carmel Angelo explained that, “that order will be out sometime this week.”
In the new rules, the California Department of Public Health lays out basic guidelines for houses of worship (the detailed rules can be viewed on the state’s website here). They encourage religious leaders to continue emphasizing remote and live-streaming options, and say that houses of worship should be at only 25% occupancy or 100 people, which ever number is lower. Other rules include training employees and new cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
Here is the governor’s press release:
Counties Statewide Can Reopen Places of Worship for
Religious Services and Retail Stores
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 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 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 is available at covid19.ca.gov.