HOUSTON – Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that starting Friday, churches and other places of worship can expand occupancy as Texas begins a phased reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Abbott said that while religious institutions were allowed to stay open through the stay home order that expires Thursday, they will be allowed to expand occupancy while maintaining social distancing and hygiene standards beginning Friday.
On Abbott’s “Reopening Texas” website, he clarified the rules for churches looking to expand occupancy starting May 1.
Here are the following health protocols for church attendees:
- Strongly encourage the at-risk population to watch or participate in the service remotely
- Designate an area inside the facility reserved for the at-risk population, or offer a service for at-risk population attendees only
- Keep at least two empty seats (or six feet separation) between parties in any row, except for two or more members of the same household who can sit next to one another, with two seats (or six feet separation) empty on either side.
- Two people who are not members of the same household but who are attending together can sit adjacent to one another, with two seats (or six feet separation) empty on either side
- Alternate rows between attendees (every other row left empty)
In March, the governor superseded county orders by deeming places of worship as essential after lawsuits were filed by several pastors who wanted to remain open during the pandemic. Abbott encouraged churches to conduct their services remotely but said that if they must meet in person, they should follow the federal social-distancing guidelines by encouraging congregants and worshippers to remain six feet apart.
In April, some Catholic archdioceses suspended Sunday masses in their cities, including San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, with no special exceptions for Easter.
Local megachurches have been streaming their services online during the shutdown to ensure the safety of its members.