SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — California has issued strict new guidelines to reopen places of worship in the state Monday, a day after health officials announced two church services held without authorization were the source of coronavirus outbreaks.
The guidelines from the Department of Public Health indicates only 25 percent of the building’s capacity can be used or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower.
Other guidelines include discouraging the sharing of items such as prayer books or rugs, discouraging handshakes, hugs, and similar greetings, replacing plate collection with alternative forms of donating, and offering communion in the hand instead of on the tongue
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Houses of worship and their parking areas would also need to be reconfigured to maintain social distancing and the sites would need approval from county health officials before going ahead with the amended religious services.
Governor Gavin Newsom has been getting increased pressure from protesters and from President Donald Trump over the closed places of worship, with the president threatening to override any state governor prohibiting churches from reopening.
Some places of worship around the country opened their doors over the weekend after Trump declared such places essential and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines for reopening faith organizations.
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On Sunday, Mendocino County public health officials said six more people who participated in a Mother’s Day service at Assembly of God Church in Redwood Valley contracted the virus, raising the number of cases to nine and making the outbreak responsible for a third of local infections.
Meanwhile, Butte County health officials said two of 180 people who attended a Mother’s Day church service in Oroville have tested positive for COVID-19. They said a recent spike in local cases, mostly in the Oroville area, indicate increased community spread.
While more segments of the state’s economy have been able to reopen in the advance Stage 2 shelter-in-place order modifications, churches in California hare not allowed to reopen until the plan’s third phase.
The approach has angered opponents who claim that California’s rules to stop the spread of the virus violate religious freedoms. Many had already announced they would violate the state order and hold in-person services next Sunday, on Pentecost.
A Pentecostal church in San Diego sued to reopen immediately, but lost its appeal on Friday when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Newsom’s ban on in-person services. In a split ruling, a court panel found that government’s emergency powers override what in normal times would be fundamental constitutional rights.
California has close to 93,000 confirmed cases and nearly 3,800 deaths, state health officials said.
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