After months apart, many churches eager to gather again are seeking to do so in a safe way. The CDC has released guidance for faith communities to help keep staff and congregations safe as they ease back into worshipping together.
Like in other social settings, CDC guidelines recommend that churches continue to encourage social distancing of at least six feet. Examples include holding services outside, limiting the number of people at each gathering, and eliminating the need to wait in lines. Churches may provide physical guides, such as tape or signs, to ensure social distancing is practiced.
As an added precaution, the CDC recommends churches encourage staff and congregants use cloth face masks when gathering. Their guidance states the face coverings are most necessary when social distancing is difficult and are meant to protect others in case the wearer is a virus carrier, but is not showing symptoms.
In addition, churches can promote healthy hygiene by encouraging proper hand washing, use of tissues, and use of hand sanitizer. The CDC has provided signs if churches would like to post them as reminders.
Other steps a church may take is to clean and ventilate more than usual. The use of frequently touched objects, such as hymnals and bulleting, should be limited. When used, they should be disinfected often.
It is also recommended that churches with more than one service clean between gatherings. All churches can increase ventilation by opening windows and doors and using fans.
Churches providing nursery services can refer to the CDC’s guidance for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in childcare settings. If providing social services, churches may also consult guidance for schools and businesses.
Churches can continue to provide safer options for high risk staff and congregants – such as continued virtual participation – while ensuring their privacy and confidentiality surrounding medical conditions. They can also support community resilience by continuing to provide spiritual care and counseling on a flexible or virtual basis.
Ultimately, the CDC recommends that churches encourage anyone who has been sick or in contact with a person with COVID-19 to stay home. It is also recommended that churches have a plan for responding to COVID-19 concerns. This may include separating symptomatic congregants from the gathering and designating a staff member to monitor exposure and symptoms reported by congregants If a person diagnosed with COVID-19 is discovered to have been in the building, churches should dismiss attendees and thoroughly clean the facilities. For safety of those cleaning, it is best to wait 24 hours before disinfecting.
The CDC notes that their recommendations are public health guidance and not legally binding standards. CDC guidance should follow what is practical and acceptable within the traditions of each faith community.