NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Gov. Bill Lee announced new guidelines on Friday for faith-based gatherings across the state as parts of the COVID-19 reopening plan begin.
Lee praised faith leaders for their innovative ways of hosting worship amid the pandemic and asked that they continue to incorporate social distancing in their services.
In a press briefing, Lee emphasized churches have never prohibited from meeting, but the state is issuing its gudiance as recommendations.
“Religious liberty is important and must be protected, and that’s why the state has always deemed religious services as essential gatherings throughout this pandemic,” Lee said. “As we look to reopen our economy in a safe fashion, the decision on in-person gatherings will be up to each individual faith community. We’re confident in their ability to determine the proper time and how to incorporate these guidelines to worship in a way that protects the health of their congregation.”
In a release, seven guidelines were given and the practice of online services and other creative methods are “strongly encouraged.” The release goes on to say not all suggestions will be appropriate for each faith community and are included as a courtesy.
“These suggestions are not, and should not be construed as, mandates or requirements by the state of Tennessee, the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, or any other entity of federal, state, or local government,” the release reads.
“Faith communities should conduct as many activities as possible remotely and should follow the recommendations in this guidance when deciding to begin gathering in person once again. Decisions about when to resume in-person gatherings are serious and should be made by each house of worship and its leadership based on the unique needs of its faith community and in consideration of
preserving and protecting health and safety to the greatest extent practicable.”
The seven guidelines are:
- Evaluate how you can provide for your congregation spiritually and emotionally, while continuing to protect vulnerable populations and reduce the spread of COVID-19.
- Wear face coverings. Social distance by staying 6 feet away from others. Consult the CDC guidelines and guidance from your local health officials to determine the risks of gathering in person. This should include thinking about the percentage of your community classified as vulnerable, how conducive your facility is to allowing social distancing, the size of your community, and more.
- A phased approach to resuming in-person gatherings is recommended. Vulnerable populations (everyone 65 years and older, people with disabilities, people with serious respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, people who are immunocompromised, and others) and children’s activities/nursery programs should not gather in person until a later time. Consider solutions to minimize close personal contact that may be part of your services, such as handshakes or sharing food and drink.
- As the phased approach begins, limit the size of attendance in your sanctuary and other confined spaces to create seating arrangements that provide at least 6-foot distancing between household units. It is recommended not to exceed 50% of maximum capacity of the room and should enable full compliance with CDC recommendations for social distancing and hygiene. Over time, as Tennessee continues to see the successful containment of COVID-19, it will be appropriate to gradually increase capacity.
- Encourage members of your community to stay at home if they are symptomatic, have a fever, have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, or have traveled internationally or to a domestic hot spot in the past two weeks.
- If you learn that a member of your congregation has tested positive for COVID-19, consult CDC guidelines and local health department recommendations to determine whether you should immediately cease in-person gatherings, close for additional cleaning, or otherwise change your protocols.
- Stay informed of updated safety protocols and recommendations as the COVID-19 situation in your community develops.
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