New Guidelines For In-Person Religious Services As Washington Continues Phased Reopening

Father Jose Alvarez, right, during walk and drive through confessions on Friday, April 24, 2020, in the parking lot at Holy Roman Catholic Church in White Center. CREDIT: Megan Farmer/KUOW
Father Jose Alvarez, right, during walk and drive through confessions on Friday, April 24, 2020, in the parking lot at Holy Roman Catholic Church in White Center. CREDIT: Megan Farmer/KUOW

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New Washington Religious Services Guidelines

Washington’s Four-Phase Reopening Plan

Counties Approved For Early Move To Phase 2

BY LIZ BRAZILE & AUSTIN JENKINS

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is allowing religious services to resume – but with restrictions. In Phase 1 counties, outdoor services with up to 100 people are now allowed. In counties approved for Phase 2, indoor services are allowed at 25% capacity or with fewer than 50 people, whichever is less.

“This is a first step. There will be more steps in the weeks to come to continue to remove restrictions in this regard,” Inslee said Wednesday during a live briefing streamed online. “I’m pleased that we’re able to do this. We know how important physical congregations are to people, so I’m glad we’ve been able to take this step today. But it does need to be on a step by step basis.”

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The new guidance calls for physical distancing and face masks during religious services. Previously, state-issued guidelines allowed churches, synagogues and mosques to hold drive up services.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 24 counties have been approved to move into the second phase of reopening, which allows certain establishments to resume in-person services with social distancing precautions in place.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday, May 27 new guidelines for religious services during the coronavirus pandemic. CREDIT: TVW/screenshot

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday, May 27 new guidelines for religious services during the coronavirus pandemic. CREDIT: TVW/screenshot

State officials are still urging faith-based organizations to continue hosting remote services to the extent possible, citing the potential for the coronavirus to spread to dozens within a single service.

However, new guidelines allow all religious organizations in Washington to hold outdoor gatherings attended by up to 100 people — excluding staff — when online services aren’t considered feasible. Attendees must wear face coverings and keep six feet of distance between families.

The guidance encompasses worship services, religious ceremonies, religious study classes, weddings, funerals and religious holiday celebrations.

For counties approved to move into the second phase of Washington’s four-phase reopening approach, indoor spiritual services can resume at 25% capacity or a maximum of 50 attendees — whichever is less. Additionally, home services may be held with no more than five people, not including staff.

The same mask-wearing and social distancing precautions apply in all scenarios, and facilities must be cleaned frequently. Staff are to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms upon the start of each shift.

The new guidance prohibits direct physical contact between clergy and service goers, and choirs must refrain from sing as a collective. But worshippers can still sing while wearing a mask.

“This is because the science has been pretty clear on this, that this virus is transmitted … through our exhalations,” Inslee said. “And the louder we p