Delaware allows religious services with strict limits

DOVER — The state on Monday announced houses of worship can conduct in-person services with restrictions, chiefly limited capacity, continued social distancing, face coverings and frequent cleanings.

With large gatherings banned due to COVID-19, religious establishments have been unable to meet in person for two months. Many have taken to online services as a result, but pressure has begun to grow for a general reopening in Delaware. Some have specifically singled out churches and other places of worship, urging Gov. John Carney to lift or loosen restrictions on them.

While the state has started reopening some facets of society, with more set to come over the next two weeks, those seeking general in-person religious services have been out of luck.

The governor acknowledged the calls for reopening faith-based centers Friday, saying he’s gotten negative feedback about the prohibition on public gatherings from a member of his own family.

“My mother, who’s 89 years old, wants to go back to church as well,” he said. “She goes to a Mass at St. Ann’s Catholic Church pretty much every morning, and … I know she’s eager to get back to church, as are thousands of Delawareans.”

Monday, he announced people can resume worshiping with each other but with strict limits. For some, however, those limits are still too much.

“No one wants to get the virus. No one wants to take unnecessary chances with the virus. But we are adults,” said Sen. Bryant Richardson, a Seaford Republican who previously coauthored a letter to the governor asking him to open churches up.

“When you get in your car and you drive to church, you are going to take the necessary precautions. You’re going to use the disinfectant. You’re going to probably keep your mask on until they give the all clear sometime in the future. I just think it is still way too restrictive.”

Under the governor’s order, religious facilities can hold services one day a week as long as total capacity remains at no more than 30 percent, services do not last more than an hour and individuals remain at least 6 feet from people from different households. Additionally, all attendees older than 12 must wear a face covering.

Services must be scheduled so the facilities can be cleaned in between, and arrival times for attendees should be staggered to limit person-to-person contact.

Items like prayer books, programs and hymnals should not be distributed as normal if possible but projected on a wall or offered online. Per the state’s restrictions, a collection tray shall not be passed around.

For faiths that share blessed food or drink, such as Communion for Christians, there should be no direct person-to-person contact or use of a common cup. Communion cannot be personally administered, and communal receptacles for congregants to bless themselves with holy water are prohibited.

Special events such as baptisms, weddings and funerals are permitted if they follow the strict guidelines, including wearing a mask and social distancing. Wedding receptions are not allowed unless participants adhere to social distancing practices.

Youth events, education and support groups must continue meeting online.

Drive-in religious services are acceptable as long as people remain in their vehicles at all times, an empty parking space remains between each car and no materials are handed out or exchanged.

“All of Delaware’s restrictions – including those inside our churches and other houses of worship – are intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” Gov. Carney said in a statement. “I know it’s difficult.

“Practicing your faith is a fundamental right. But Delawareans who are at higher risk should not attend in-person services. Do your best to practice your faith virtually.

“Wear a cloth face covering if you attend an in-person service. Remain at least six feet away from others. Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. Now’s not the time for Delawareans to let up.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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