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California allows houses of worship to begin readmitting people for services

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston-cc
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Attendance will be limited to 25% of a building’s capacity.

Houses of worship in California are being allowed to “reopen,” the state’s Department of Public Health announced Monday. But the department’s guidelines limit attendance to religious services and funerals to 25% of a building’s capacity or up to 100 attendees, whichever is lower.

Catholic and other churches have not allowed congregations since March, as part of efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“Together, our actions have helped bend the curve and reduce infections in our state,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, State Public Health Officer and Director of the California Department of Public Health in a statement. “As sectors continue to open with changes that aim to lower risk, remember that COVID-19 is still present in our communities.”

The Department of Public Health is requiring houses of worship to:

  • Establish and implement a COVID-19 prevention plan,
  • 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
  • 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 Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced the suspension of public Masses on March 16.

“It’s been very challenging for me, personally, and for my brother bishops and priests not to be able to have the celebration of Mass in a normal way,” Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles said in a recent video on the archdiocesan website. “And also it’s been very challenging to have to postpone the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation during this time. And not be able to be present for the entire Church in the celebration of Sacraments like Baptism and Confession, especially the celebration of funerals where we have the sadness and passing of one of our loved ones.”

Archbishop Gomez indicated that when churches reopen, there will be protocols that include social distancing and making sure that “the churches are sanitized and people are protected when they come to church.”

In a May 12 statement, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said he was “well aware of the spiritual distress that so many of our people are experiencing due to the unavailability of attending Mass in person.”

“For these last several weeks I have been joining my brother bishops in California for our weekly videoconference meetings to discuss the current situation and strategize how to begin safely to reopen for public Masses,” Archbishop Cordileone said. “We all agree that we should do this in sync with government regulations for sound safety protocols, and to that end have initiated a conversation with government leaders in Sacramento on this topic.”

He said that he formed a committee of pastors and lay people to draft safety protocols, in keeping with current government regulations, that will enable churches to begin accommodating the public at Mass.

The Diocese of San Diego will begin allowing congregants into church for daily Mass on June 8 and for Sunday Mass on June 14, reported the California Catholic Daily.

The Department of Public Health said that in 21 days it would consult with local departments of public health to review and assess the impact of the religious services guidelines and provide further direction as part of a phased-in restoration of activities.

There are nearly 11 million Catholics in California representing 29 percent of the entire population in the state, according to the California Catholic Conference.

As of Tuesday, there have been close to 95,000 COVID-19 cases in California, with 3,795 deaths.

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