Written by Julianne Foster
Gov. Gavin Newsom has received a lot of pressure from elected officials across California, residents of the state, and even President Trump to allow religious institutions to begin reopening. Newsom recently pivoted from his stance and assured the public that religious services would soon be able to reopen. “We are looking forward to a very positive working relationship with faith leaders as we make public those documents and look forward to working through this issue in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration,” said Newsom.
On May 25, over two months since Californians were directed to stay home due to COVID-19, California State and health officials announced the reopening of houses of worship. This new step in the Stage 2 process of reopening came with a 13-page guide for how churches should run until further reassessment and direction.
The document holds an undeniable negative light over the possible outcomes from reopening houses of worship. From the start, it encourages places of worship to continue holding remote services for the safety of people more at risk of contracting the virus. It warns that even congregations that successfully practice social distancing have risks of spreading the disease through convening in large groups and practicing in “activities such as singing and group recitation.” Such activities could speed up the transmission of the disease.
For the first 21 days after county health officials have approved houses of worship to reopen, they must “limit attendance to 25 percent building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower.” After 21 days, the California Department of Public Health and the County Departments of Public Health shall reassess the impact of the limits on reopening houses of worship and update them with directions to possibly allow more activities.
The document continued to breakdown employee and volunteer training, measures of control over the individual situations, proper cleaning and disinfecting protocols, and physical distancing recommendations.
For houses of worship that would previously hold potlucks or other activities that involved self-serving food and/or beverages, the state recommends switching to single-serve options with disposable containers. They asked church officials to reconsider practices, such as communion, that may involve the sharing of a common cup, or exposed items being passed by hand. All of these regulations also apply to funeral services, for which they encourage reduced or staggered times for visitation.
For San Diego County officials and church congregants, this next step into social and economic reopening is cause for celebration. San Diegans have seen the approval of drug stores remaining open, deemed as “essential” when churches, which provide services for the spiritual and emotional well-being of their congregants, were instructed to close their doors.
The implications put in place were earlier addressed by a judge with a federal panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as “inflexible and overbroad.” However, leaders in faith-based communities have been communicating to the state from the beginning that they are trustworthy to run their church while making all the necessary changes to provide a safe environment for congregants. Although Gov. Newsom may not be a fan of religious reopening, the voices of the people in California are finally being heard and respected.