Updated May 26, 1:15 p.m.
More than two months after the state issued its stay-at-home order, California is allowing religious services in the state to reopen under new guidelines, but with restrictions on how many people can attend and other precautions.
Under the new rules, places of worship must limit the number of people in a facility to 25% of normal or no more than 100 people for services or funerals, whichever is smaller. The same requirement holds for any enclosed space that would hold a public protest.
Jason Poling is a pastor with the Cornerstone Church in Yuba City. He says he's grateful for the relaxation of restrictions. And he says there have been positives from taking services online, including new members from the Middle East and Uganda.
“We miss being together. Obviously that’s very encouraging and important for people of faith to see each other and sing and all that. But actually getting out the message of Jesus Christ, it’s been an amazing time to be honest,” Poling said.
The notification says county public health departments must first approve the guidelines for their communities. The California Department of Public Health is still urging people to wear face coverings in public and wash hands frequently to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Just as Roling says there were benefits to doing things a different way, Capital Books’ owners say they actually saw an increase in business because of its ability to fill orders quickly, while large online outfits struggled.
“We’ve met a lot of new people. We’ve got a lot of new customers and now they’re starting to come into the store for the first time,” said Ross Rojek, who owns the bookstore. "For a lot of them they’re excited about that because they’ve only just talked to us on the phone, and emailed us and seen pictures online and now finally they get to come in and see the store and shop the shelves.”
The bookstore is also now carrying more puzzles, educational materials and children’s books.
There are other mandates for places of worship, including that they have a prevention plan, train staff, clean and disinfect and set social distancing boundaries. Staff and choir members should wear face coverings and stay six feet apart, and the state recommends avoiding singing or group recitations.The guidelines also discourage the use of collection plates.
CDPH still encourages places of worship to continue to offer online services. It says it will review the guidelines in three weeks.
The guidelines come as Gov. Gavin Newsom is under increasing pressure from faith groups to ease restrictions. On Friday an appeals court upheld Newsom’s ban on in-person church services after a San Diego church sued. The judges in the majority wrote that the state can use unusual powers as it deals with a “contagious and often fatal disease.”
The new guidelines also allow retail stores to open statewide, under the same expanded "Stage 2" rules 47 of the state's 58 counties are currently under. Retail does not include personal services such as hair salons, nail salons and barbershops.
More information about the state’s COVID-19 guidance is on the CDPH's guidance web page.
More information about reopening California and what individuals can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is available at covid19.ca.gov.
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