SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has released guidance for safely gathering for religious services as the state enters Phase Three of its “Restore Illinois” reopening plan. While the State still recommends that no more than 10 people congregate for indoor services at this time, the document is simply that — a recommendation and no longer a mandate. It also suggests meeting outside instead.
“Recognizing the centrality of worship in many people’s lives and the spiritual and emotional value of prayer, community, and faith, this guidance provides recommendations for places of worship that choose to resume or expand in-person activities, and for those that do not,” the document reads. “This guidance does not obligate or encourage places of worship to resume in-person activity.”
It states that the IDPH still urges churches to continue to offer the option of remote services for those who are most vulnerable, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions, as well as drive-in services.
“Drive-in services involve congregants driving to a common location and worshiping together from their household vehicle, while listening to either a remote service or one that is broadcast through speakers. If done correctly, these types of services pose a low risk of infection,” the document outlines.
The IDPH also suggests for those who want to resume in-person services to congregate outside as it is “much safer.” The State still recommends six-foot social distancing and wearing masks and to avoid congregate singing. However, if congregate singing and group recitation will be a part of the service, the IDPH says that distancing should be increased to 10 feet.
For churches that wish to hold services inside, the document states that leadership should “[c]onsider holding multiple services for multiple small groups, limiting 10-person in-person services to special events (weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc.), or limiting in-person activities to private prayer and worship.”
It notes that the State recommends gatherings of no more than 10 people, but if it “cannot be followed,” churches are urged to “[s]et a capacity limit for the place of worship that allows for extensive social distancing (six feet or more) between congregants.”
“Consider limiting attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower,” the document outlines. “Conduct multiple small services as opposed to one large service. Consider small, separate services for certain groups – such as those over 65 years or vulnerable, or those with small children who will have difficulty social distancing.”
Cleaning and disinfecting protocols and other guidance is also offered as a resource.
As previously reported, earlier this month, Pritzker implied during his daily briefing that some churches — depending on their size — may not fully resume in-person gatherings for up a year or more.
“Can the governor provide more clarity to churches regarding holding services? Should they plan not to hold services larger than 50 people until their region has moved to Phase Five?” inquired WBBM reporter Cisco Cotto, a graduate of Moody Theological Seminary, as read by an assistant who fielded questions submitted by the media.
Phase Five is known as “Illinois Restored,” and according to Patch.com, “could be a long way off.”
“Well, you know that in Phase Three, there can be gatherings — church gatherings — of 10 or fewer. In Phase Four, 50 or fewer. So that’s the guidance that’s been given to me,” Pritzker replied. “I’m not the one providing that guidance. It really is what the scientists and epidemiologists are recommending.”
“Here’s the truth, and I don’t like it any more than you do,” he later stated. “Until we have a vaccine or an effective treatment … the option of returning to normalcy doesn’t exist. We have to figure out how to live with COVID-19 until it can be vanquished.”
Several churches sued Pritzker, including two Romanian assemblies that appealed their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Brett Kavanaugh ordered the governor to respond no later than 8 p.m. Thursday, and the new guidelines were issued shortly before that deadline.
“Having received many plans and ideas from responsible faith leaders, (the Illinois Department of Public Health) has reviewed many detailed proposals and has provided guidance — not mandatory restrictions — for all faith leaders to use in their efforts to ensure the health and safety of their congregants,” Pritzker said on Thursday, according to the Belleville News-Democrat. “This includes suggestions on capacity limits, new cleaning protocols, indoor gatherings of 10 persons or less, a reduction of activities like sharing food and the safe conduct of outdoor congregating.”
“The safest options remain remote and drive-in services,” he opined. “But for those that want to conduct in-person activities, IDPH is offering best practices.”