Churches can reopen, with attendance limits

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Hollister Methodist Church on Monterey Street. Photo: Robert Eliason

San Benito County officials announced this week that new areas of the county may be one step closer to reopening.

The California Department of Public Health issued a press release May 25 stating that a statewide reopening of places of worship for religious services and in-store retail shopping is in effect. 

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 symptoms, including older adults and people with specific medical conditions.

According to the state’s new guidance, places of worship can hold religious services and funerals that limit attendance to 25 percent of a building’s capacity—or up to 100 attendees—upon approval by the county department of public health.

“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. 

The state announced modifications that are required to keep people safe and limit the spread of Covid-19. 

Places of worship must establish and implement a Covid-19 prevention plan for every location in order to reopen for religious services and funerals. They must also train staff on the plan and regularly evaluate workplaces for compliance.

The state still recommends that staff and guests wear cloth face coverings along with screening staff for temperature and symptoms at the beginning of their shifts. 

It’s also recommended that places of worship should set parameters around or consider eliminating singing and group recitations.

The existing guidance for retailers, which previously allowed for counties to move further along the reopening process, now applies statewide.

Some county public health departments are allowing all retail stores to reopen for in-store shopping under the previously issued guidelines. Personal services such as hair salons, nail salons and barbershops are available but to an extent.

According to the Department of Health, haircuts, weaves and extensions, braiding, lock maintenance, wig maintenance, hair relaxing treatments and color services can be provided as long as the workers and customers wear face coverings.

Services that require touching the customer’s face such as eyelash services, eyebrow waxing and threading and facials are still suspended.

“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,” Angell said.  

The State Department of Public Health along with local departments will review and assess the impact of the religious services guidelines. They’ll provide further direction as part of a phased-in restoration of activities, according to the press release.

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

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