SAINT PAUL, Minn. — After two religious groups vowed to go ahead with indoor services larger than the 10-person limit, the Minnesota Department of Health has released new guidelines allowing churches to open at 25 percent capacity, with a maximum of 250 people.
According to the Star Tribune, Gov. Tim Walz announced the changes on Saturday, and they took effect on Wednesday.
“Before hosting groups over 10 people, faith-based communities, places of worship, funeral homes, and other venues that offer gathering space for wedding, funerals, and planned services such as worship, rituals, prayer meetings, Scripture studies, must develop and implement a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan,” the guidelines read.
“The Plan must be evaluated, monitored, executed, and updated under the supervision of a designated Plan Administrator within your organization or leadership structure.”
It outlines that occupancy must not exceed 25 percent, with a maximum of 250 people in a contained space. Outdoor gatherings also must not exceed 250 participants. Staggered arrival and departure, and the use of multiple doors, is recommended to avoid congestion at entrances and exits.
The guidelines also state that staff should maintain a distance of six feet apart and should regularly wash their hands, wearing masks when in shared work spaces. A sanitation schedule and checklist should also be created in regard, and it is recommended that printouts or projectors be used for hymnals or the reading of texts as books cannot be cleaned.
“Singing is a higher-risk activity as it more forcefully expels respiratory droplets than speaking. And the act of singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols,” the document outlines. “Congregations should refrain from singing.”
Instead, the State recommends pre-recorded music or the use of a soloist, who stands at least 12 feet away from any person, while also wearing a mask.
The Minnesota Catholic Conference and The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, which had worked with Gov. Walz in hopes of opening their doors by May 31, announced in letters to the governor last week that they planned to do so anyway after finding that they were left out of a new executive order pertaining to facilities allowed to open as of June 1.
“We were disappointed to find that instead, you allowed retail and other non-critical businesses to open, setting a plan in place for bars and restaurants to reopen while limiting churches to meetings of ten people or fewer,” the Lutheran North and South District presidents wrote.
“In the absence of a timeline or any other assurances that churches will soon be able to reopen, we find that we must move forward with our religious exercise in a safe manner.”
South District President Dr. Lucas Woodford expressed thankfulness after learning that the State had decided to allow expanded occupancy days later.
“The ability to meet in person to worship God and support one another is invaluable to our community of faith,” he remarked in a statement. “We are so pleased that Minnesota decided to reopen churches, without needing to resort to legal action. We will remain prayerful and watchful, so that this agreement is just the beginning of a return to full, in-person worship.”