Riverside and San Bernardino counties reopen places of worship after state grants permission

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Simon Cooper offers prayers to people who attended an online Sunday Service inside their cars at the Christian '412 Church Murrieta' parking lot on April 19, 2020, in Murrieta, California. (APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

Simon Cooper offers prayers to people who attended an online Sunday Service inside their cars at the Christian ‘412 Church Murrieta’ parking lot on April 19, 2020, in Murrieta, California. (APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

Riverside and San Bernardino counties allowed places of worship to reopen Monday, after the state released guidelines for safely reopening religious institutions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Churches, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship must limit attendance to 25% capacity or to a maximum of 100 visitors — whichever is lower — for 21 days, according to the California Department of Public Health’s new guidelines. After 21 days, state officials will review and assess the impact and provide further direction as part of a “phased-in restoration of activities.” 

Riverside County — which had requested on May 15 for religious services to resume — immediately issued a statement allowing services to begin, in accordance with state rules.

“A cornerstone of many religions is to take care of each other. Let’s continue to take care of each other by praying and observing six feet apart,” Riverside Board of Supervisors Chair V. Manuel Perez said.

The county was given permission from state health officials to enter accelerated Phase 2 on Friday, allowing malls, swap meets and dine-in restaurants to resume operations. And on Saturday, San Bernardino County got the green light to reopen restaurants and retail stores too.

After state released guidelines Monday, San Bernardino County also allowed places of worship to resume for religious services, including funerals.

“This is a great first step for our residents of faith who have refrained from gathering for more than two months,” said the county’s Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman. “With places of worship, dine-in restaurants, stores, and malls now suddenly open, it is more important than ever that we practice physical distancing, wear face coverings in public, and frequently wash our hands to protect ourselves and those around us.”

Several state-mandated guidelines must be followed by houses of worship for them to reopen, including screening congregants for high temperatures and other COVID-19 symptoms, implementing social distancing measures, disinfecting common areas and installing hand sanitizer dispensers.

Congregants should be asked to use hand sanitizer and wear face coverings, the health department said.

Religious institutions are also asked to “strongly consider” discontinuing singing and group recitations and to consider using disposable seat covers and to offer communion in the hand instead of on the tongue.

Alternative means such as online and drive-in services are still encouraged by the state when possible, particularly for those most at risk from COVID-19, including older adults and people with specific medical conditions.

Religious institutions may choose to stay closed.

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