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Bay Area Churches Eager To Reopen Making Changes To Keep Worshipers Safe From COVID-19

VACAVILLE (KPIX) - So far, the coronavirus shelter-in-place struggle between churches and the state has only produced a lot of heat. But some church leaders are now beginning to add a little light into the discussion about when they may reopen.

The Valley Church, in rural Vacaville, in Solano County has space for about 320 worshipers. So Pastor Jeremy White says it does feel a little strange right now with only about 80 chairs set up to accommodate 6-foot social distancing.

"I mean, it's a little different, you know," he said, "but we've got to make adjustments and keep people safe -- do what we need to do."

He wants to reopen on May 31, Pentecost Sunday, which commemorates the start of the Christian church. So, they've added distancing markers, plastic shields and, on Tuesday, industrial mixing equipment was installed to create large volumes of sanitizing liquids.

In case more than 80 people show up at the church they are creating an outdoor video viewing area complete with a barista serving coffee drinks. White says they are doing all they can to make church a low-risk activity.

"We've been told by our county that it's strongly possible that we can open on May 31," he said. "But, of course, they're working with our governor and the powers above them to determine whether that's going to be okay."

At Oakland's Acts Full Gospel Church, Pastor Bob Jackson isn't happy that his church is considered "non-essential" but he acknowledges that things will have to change for it to reopen.

"We're not going to do church as usual. Forget that…that is finished!" he said. "And I don't think we ever will because of the coronavirus."

The church is huge, seating 4,000 people. But Pastor Jackson says they've done the math and can fit 900 worshipers in and still maintain 6-foot distancing. He says between that and face masks and frequent cleanings, the church shouldn't be any more dangerous than Costco.

And Alameda County may be softening a bit. Jackson says he's been informed the cayhurch will be allowed to hold May 31 services outside in the parking lot, if people stay inside their cars.

"That was my prayer… that we'd be able to have service and God has answered my prayer! And he's blessed us and I thank God again for Alameda County," Jackson said. "And he's blessed me with a huge parking lot!"

The churches are looking for ways to safely distance larger groups of people but they say they actually have no idea how many people might show up that first day. They say it make take a while for people to be comfortable enough to come back in.

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