On Monday, California released a framework that will permit counties to allow in-person worship services – including limiting worshipers to 100 or less, taking everyone’s temperature, limiting singing and group recitations and not sharing prayer books or other items, The Associated Press reported.
The Orthodox congregation of Shul on the Beach in Los Angeles County’s Venice Beach will follow the guidelines, consulting with rabbinical authorities who place a high importance on preservation of life, Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz said.
“We can do it, it’s just a question of how,” he said, noting that Orthodox believers are barred from using technology or carrying many personal items on the Sabbath.
The path of reopening provides “a great deal of hope,” he added. “That’s what people need.”
Houses of worship are the latest focus as the state eases mid-March stay-at-home orders that shut down all but essential services and kept 40 million Californians at home to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Social distancing precautions are cited for reducing rates of hospitalizations and deaths and most of California’s 58 counties are deep into phase two of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four-stage plan to restart the battered economy. The state on Monday cleared the way for in-store shopping to resume statewide with social distancing restrictions, although counties get to decide whether to permit it.
Individual counties also will decide whether to allow the reopening of in-person services for churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious institutions. In-person religious services are relegated to phase three, which Newsom had said could be weeks away.
But they could come much sooner under the guidelines. Counties that are having success controlling the virus are likely to move quickly. Others with outbreaks — such as Los Angeles County, which has about 60% of California’s roughly 3,800 deaths — may choose to delay.
Orange County supervisors may consider a resolution being introduced Tuesday to reopen houses of worship next weekend under federal and state health guidelines.
Worshippers who are allowed to return will find some jarring changes. The state guidelines limit gatherings to 25% of building capacity or 100 people, whichever is lower.
Choirs aren’t recommended, and neither are shaking hands or hugging. Worshipers are urged to wear masks, avoid sharing prayer books or prayer rugs, keep their distance in pews and skip the collection plate. Large gatherings such as for concerts, weddings and funerals should be avoided.
The guidelines say even with physical distancing, in-person worship carries a higher risk of transmitting the virus and increasing the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths and recommend houses of worship shorten services.
Each county will have to adopt rules for services to resume within their jurisdictions and then the guidelines will be reviewed by state health officials after 21 days.