California Counties Can Reopen Churches and Retail Stores

If approved by the county department of public health, places of worship can reopen with modifications. – Courtesy photo by Brandon Morgan on Unsplash

The California Department of Public Health on Monday announced the statewide reopening of places of worship for religious services and in-store retail shopping. Modifications are required to keep Californians safe and limit the spread of COVID-19. Subject to approval by county public health departments, all retail stores can reopen for in-store shopping under previously issued guidelines. Under new guidance, places of worship, which were not set to reopen until the third phase of the state’s plan, can hold religious services and funerals that limit attendance to 25% of a building’s capacity — or up to 100 attendees, whichever is lower — upon approval by the county department of public health. 

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

Los Angeles County officials have not yet approved these new guidelines but Supervisor Janice Hahn, who last week proposed a plan to allow retail to reopen with safety protocols, said Monday that the County will likely update its health order to allow retailers to open.

The County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health reinforced the County’s guidelines in a press release: “Retailers remain closed to public entry along with beach piers, and public and private gatherings of any number of people outside of a single household unit are still not permitted.”

The new guidance for religious services and cultural ceremonies encourages organizations to continue online services and activities, to protect individuals who are most at risk for more severe COVID-19.

To reopen for religious services and funerals, places of worship must:

  • Establish and implement a COVID-19 prevention plan for every location, train staff on the plan, and regularly evaluate workplaces for compliance.
  • Train employees and volunteers on COVID-19, including how to prevent it from spreading and which underlying health conditions may make individuals more susceptible to contracting the virus.
  • Implement cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
  • Set physical distancing guidelines.
  • Recommend that staff and guests wear cloth face coverings, and screen staff for temperature and symptoms at the beginning of their shifts.
  • Set parameters around or consider eliminating singing and group recitations. These activities dramatically increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission. For this reason, congregants engaging in singing, particularly in the choir, and group recitation should wear face coverings at all times and when possible, these activities should be conducted outside with greater than 6-foot distancing. 

The existing guidance for retailers, previously allowed for counties approved to advance in the reopening process, now applies statewide. Retail can now open for in-store shopping statewide. The guidelines help reduce the risk for workers and customers. Retail does not include personal services such as hair salons, nail salons and barbershops.

In 21 days, the Department of Public Health, in consultation with local departments of public health, will review and assess the impact of the religious services guidelines and provide further direction as part of a phased-in restoration of activities. This 21-day interval accounts for seven days for religious communities to prepare and reopen in addition to a 14-day incubation period of COVID-19.

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