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Newsom issues guidelines for California houses of worship to reopen

California to reopen places of worship
California to reopen places of worship 00:44

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday issued new guidelines for places of worship in the state to begin resuming in-person services amid the coronavirus pandemic. The move comes days after President Trump called on governors across the country to reopen places of worship and warned that he would override state executives if they don't comply. 

Newsom's new guidelines say places of worship could reopen, if local county public health officials approve, but attendance must be limited to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 people, whichever is lower. The limitations will remain in places for 21 days after approval

After the initial three weeks, the California Department of Public Health will work with county public health officials to review the impact of in-person gatherings at places of worship and provide further direction for future services. 

Virus Outbreak California Churches
In this Saturday, May 23, 2020, file photo, a woman and child sit in a circle designed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by encouraging social distancing at Washington Square park in front of Saints Peter and Paul Church in San Francisco.  Jeff Chiu / AP

On Friday, the president declared that he was designating houses of worship "essential places that provide essential services." Mr. Trump called it an "injustice" that some governors deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but not house of worship. 

"I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now," Mr. Trump said at a press conference on Friday. "If there's any question, they're going to have to call me but they're not going to be successful in that call."

Following the president's press conference, Newsom promised new guidelines were on the way and said he was in communication with faith leaders across the state. Newsom said he was aggressively working to "put together guidelines that will do justice to people's health and their fundamental need and desire to practice their faith."

While the new guidelines allow places of worship to resume in-person activity, it "does not obligate" them to do so and further recommends that places of worship "continue to facilitate remote services." 

"Even with adherence to physical distancing, convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households to practice a personal faith carries a relatively higher risk for widespread transmission of the COVID-19 virus," Newsom's guidance states. 

In addition to attendance limits, places of worship must train staff and volunteers on prevention and spreading methods, implement disinfection protocols, and recommend that staff and guests wear face coverings.

Congregants engaging in singing, choir, or group recitation "should wear face coverings at all times" and when possible "these activities should be conducted outside with greater than 6-foot distancing."

Other states are also starting to ease restrictions for places of worship.

Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said religious gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed statewide as long as participants wear masks and practice social distancing. The state also is allowing drive-in and parking lot services.

"I understand their desire to get to religious ceremonies as soon as possible. As a former altar boy, I get it," Cuomo said. "But we need to find out how to do it and do it safely and do it smartly. The last thing we want to do is have a religious ceremony that winds up having more people infected."

In-person religious gatherings will also resume in Minnesota on Wednesday. This weekend, Democratic governor Tim Walz said places of worship can begin resuming in-person activity, so long as they follow public health guidelines, and limit attendance to 25% capacity.

Earlier Monday on CNN's State of the Union, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he spoke with Mr. Trump on Friday, but said "I would hope we would get to houses of worship sooner than later. But we want to make sure we do it right, responsibility, and that we don't kill anybody by doing it too fast."

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