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Governor releases guidelines for in-person worship services

JACKSON — On Tuesday, Gov. Tate Reeves released social distancing and sanitation guidelines for in-person worship services to resume across Mississippi.

Under the governor’s executive orders, churches and places of worship were deemed an essential business or operation and were never instructed to close, though they were encouraged to offer services online and remotely to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Consulting with Thomas Dobbs, M.D., and state health officials, Reeves developed guidelines to help protect public health as worship leaders and their congregations practice their faiths.
“I’ll just say this as a personal point. My family is likely going to continue worshiping from home for a while,” Reeves said in a Tuesday press conference. “The church is not a building. We can honor our Lord and keep our neighbors safe. You don’t need to rush back. We do want to provide a playbook for how to do it safely when pastors determine the time is right.”
The guidelines include steps to prepare churches for worship services, plan for logistics and worship programming and direct church staff and worship leadership on social distancing protocols.

Church leaders are asked to consult healthcare professionals to develop the best practices to protect the health of their congregation, implement cleaning and disinfecting protocols that comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regulations, provide social distancing reminders and hand sanitizing stations at all points of entry and close all of their church’s common areas apart from the sanctuary to prevent social gathering outside of worship services.

They are also asked to communicate with their congregation prior to resuming services and persuade those who require childcare, have traveled to virus hot-spot within the last two weeks, who are not feeling well, or are at-risk church members — such as people older than 65 years or those with compromised immune systems, disabilities or serious respiratory or cardiovascular issues — to delay their return.

Church leaders were also asked to develop protocols that space seating of household units 6 feet or more apart; limit close personal contact; avoid passing plates or sharing books microphones, food or drink; do not allow attendance to exceed more than 50 percent of the church’s capacity; utilize controlled points of entry and exiting and require church staff or volunteers to undergo a symptom and temperature check before working.