California issues guidelines for church reopenings

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FILE - In this April 6, 2020 file photo, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, front, celebrates the Chrism Mass for the faithful of the nation's largest Catholic Archdiocese in Los Angeles. California says churches can resume in-person services but the congregations will be limited to less than 100 and worshippers should wear masks, avoid sharing prayer books and skip the collection plate. The state Department of Public Health released a framework Monday, May 25, for county health officials to permit houses of worship to reopen. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

LOS ANGELES – Religious services in California will look much different under rules unveiled Monday that limit attendance to 100 people and recommend worshippers wear masks, limit singing and refrain from shaking hands or hugging.

The state released guidance under which county health departments can approve the reopening of churches, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship. They have been closed since Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

It’s not immediately known how soon in-person services will resume. Counties that are having success controlling the virus are likely to move quickly. Others with outbreaks — such as Los Angeles County, which has about 60% of California’s roughly 3,800 deaths — may choose to delay.

The guidelines ask worshippers to wear masks, avoid sharing prayer books or prayer rugs and skip the collection plate. They also say to avoid large gatherings for holidays, weddings and funerals and warn that activities such as singing or group recitation "negate” the benefits of social distancing.

The guidelines say even with physical distancing, in-person worship carries a higher risk of transmitting the virus and increasing the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths and recommend houses of worship shorten services.

Each county will have to adopt rules for services to resume within their jurisdictions and then the guidelines will be reviewed by state health officials after 21 days. The guidelines include limiting gatherings to 25% of building capacity or 100 people, whichever is lower.

In Los Angeles County, Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz of the Shul on the Beach in Venice Beach said he hopes his congregation can meet for this week’s Shavuot holiday, to celebrate when Jews received the Torah.

The congregation will have to figure out how to provide temperature checks and provide a place for individual prayer books and shawls. Orthodox Jews do not use technology during the Sabbath and may not carry most personal items.