(RICK BANNAN/Centralia Chronicle)
Gov. Inslee announces new Easing of restrictions based on ‘Safe Start Washington’ phase for services
Religious congregations in Washington state can make a gradual return to normal services as Gov. Jay Inslee announced new guidance on such gatherings on May 27.
During a press conference Inslee announced that in-person religious services could begin again with restrictions to adhere to physical distancing and safety practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The new guidance applies to both the first and second phases of “Safe Start Washington,” with progressively eased restrictions that were initially in place.
For counties currently in the first phase of “Safe Start Washington,” such as Clark County, outdoor services on church property would be allowed up to 100 people. Counties in the second phase, such as Cowlitz, Lewis — and now Thurston which Inslee announced earlier that day — would be allowed to have services inside of the building at 25 percent capacity or with no more than 50 individuals, whichever was less. The new second-phase guidance would also allow for in-house services or counseling at someone’s residence if there were five or fewer individuals involved.
Inslee explained the new guidance applied to religious services, study groups, ceremonies and holiday celebrations. There was no limit on how many of the events could be held in a location throughout the day.
In all cases, appropriate physical distancing and face coverings were urged. Inslee said there should be a full six feet between seats, frequent cleaning and sanitization, appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for worship staff.
The new guidance follows the original restrictions for the first phase allowed for drive-in religious services, with the initial second phase allowing public gatherings of no more than five people outside of the household weekly.
Inslee said the ban had been a “difficult issue,” acknowledging that “people treasure gatherings” in Washington State. He had invited officials of Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths to speak on behalf of their respective congregations, with those speaking acknowledging that although the need to celebrate their faith was important, it did not preclude the need to protect the health of congregates.
“Obviously (the religious communities) are protecting their own flock, their own congregation … but they’re protecting everybody outside, of multiple faiths,” Inslee remarked. “This is truly an all-faiths issue.”