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Reeves says Mississippi churches can gather again. Here are the guidelines.

Sun Herald - 5/20/2020

May 19--Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday released new guidelines churches should follow as they resume in-person worship services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reeves encouraged churches to wait until after June 1 to resume services and said his family will continue worshipping from home. He also will continue his Sunday morning Facebook prayer service for "the foreseeable future," he said.

Although the state never required churches to close, Reeves has said repeatedly that church services, weddings and funerals have been common causes for novel coronavirus outbreaks early in the pandemic.

One of the first instances of community spread in Mississippi was linked to a church choir, he said Tuesday. The state is now recommending solo performers instead of choirs.

Reeves consulted with State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs before setting standards to follow.

"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 statement. "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 houses of worship, plan for logistics and worship programming, and direct staff and worship leadership on social distancing protocols.

Preparing a house of worship

-- Invite medical professionals to help develop best practices for your congregration.

-- Implement deep cleaning and disinfection practices that follow CDC guidelines.

-- Sanitize shared resources after each use and regularly clean all high-traffic/high-touch areas.

-- Use controlled points of entry and exit to help maintain social distancing.

-- Ensure the flow of fresh air and that ventilation and HVAC systems are operating properly.

-- Restrooms should be cleaned and sanitized daily.

-- Consider closing common areas outside of the sanctuary, including coffee stations.

-- Give careful consideration to preschool and children's areas.

Logistics, times and locations for worship services

-- Inform members of the community about changes to in-person gatherings.

-- Consult CDC guidelines and advice from the Mississippi State Department of Health to determine the risks of in-person gatherings. This should include consideration of how many members of your community are vulnerable to COVID-19 and how capable the facility is to hosting gatherings.

-- Consider adopting a phased approach to resuming in-person gatherings.

-- Communicate with vulnerable populations and families requiring child care during a service to encourage them to delay their return for several weeks.

-- Keep an online meeting option available.

-- Consider minimizing close personal contact, including handshakes or sharing food and drink. Consider delaying children's activities and nursery programs.

-- As the phased approach begins, limit the size of attendance and create seating that provide at least 6 feet of distance between household units.

-- Mitigate exposure with social distancing guidelines that require people to stay at least 6 feet away from people not in your household.

-- Consider not exceeding 50 percent of the maximum capacity of the sanctuary.

-- Encourage members to stay home if they are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

-- Consider strongly encouraging members to wear face coverings.

-- If you learn that a member has contracted COVID-19, inform the state health department.

Staff and leadership

-- Evaluate which practices are inappropriate to continue while COVID-19 remains a threat.

-- Require screening symptoms for all staff volunteers before they begin their service or work, checking for symptoms and asking if they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive.

-- Consider requiring all staff to wear appropriate protective gear that pertain to their duties.

-- Consider designating a health officer and team that can monitor members and establish protocols.

-- Develop a plan for potential COVID-19 cases and work with local health department officials when needed.

-- Communicate in advance with all staff and volunteers so they will be informed about plans.

Worship programming

-- Avoid passing a plate or cup. Also modify protocols if your tradition includes shared food or drink.

-- Temporarily replace a choir with soloists or small ensembles of people at least 6 feet apart.

-- Avoid sharing and passing microphones.

-- Create other ways to allow people to tithe without collection plates.

-- Delay restarting religious instructional classes.

-- Consider dismissing in a process that allows social distancing.

-- Do not distribute printed bulletins or flyers.

-- Provide security and greeters inside and outside facilities. No handshakes or hugs should be allowed at this time.

-- Prop doors open or have greeters hold doors open to minimize contact with door handles.

-- Sanitize all high-contact surfaces frequently.


-- Post a sign at all points of entry that include the following questions. Any person who answers yes should not enter the facility.

1. Have you been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the past 14 days?

2. Are you experiencing a cough, shortness of breath or sore throat?

3. Have you had a fever in the last 48 hours?

4. Have you had new loss of taste or smell?

5. Have you had vomiting or diarrhea in the last 24 hours?

-- Post signs to remind people to practice social distancing and maintain good hand hygiene.

-- Hand sanitizer should be please at all points of entry.

-- Post signs to encourage hand washing in restrooms.

-- Encourage face coverings.

-- Coffee stations should be closed and group meals are strongly discouraged.

-- In-house dining should follow those guidelines set for restaurants.

-- Activity centers and gyms are encouraged to remain closed at this time.


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