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caption: Father Jose Alvarez, right, during walk and drive through confessions on Friday, April 24, 2020, in the parking lot at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in White Center.
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Father Jose Alvarez, right, during walk and drive through confessions on Friday, April 24, 2020, in the parking lot at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in White Center.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Religious, spiritual services allowed to continue in person as Washington state counties reopen

Gov. Jay Inslee has issued new guidance for continuing religious gatherings as various Washington state counties move ahead with phased reopening.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 24 of the state's 39 counties have been approved to move into the second phase of reopening. That allows certain establishments to resume in-person services with social distancing precautions in place.

State officials are still urging faith-based organizations to continue hosting remote services to the extent possible, citing the potential for the coronavirus to spread to dozens within a single service.

However, new guidelines allow all religious organizations in Washington to hold outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people — excluding staff — when online services aren't considered feasible. Service goers must wear face coverings and keep at least six feet of distance between families.

The new guidance encompasses worship services, religious ceremonies, religious study classes, weddings, funerals, and religious holiday celebrations.

For counties approved to move into the second phase of Washington's four-phase reopening plan, indoor spiritual services can resume at 25% capacity or a maximum of 50 attendees — whichever is less. Additionally, home services may be held with no more than five people, not including staff.

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The same mask-wearing and social distancing precautions apply in all scenarios, and facilities must be cleaned frequently. Staff are to be screened for Covid-19 symptoms upon the start of each shift.

The new guidance prohibits direct physical contact between clergy and service goers, and choirs must refrain from singing as collectives. But worshippers can still sing while wearing a mask.

"This is because the science has been pretty clear on this, that this virus is transmitted ... through our exhalations," Inslee said. "And the louder we project our voices, the farther this virus travels."

State officials are encouraging congregations to maintain a voluntary log of service attendees, to help aid in Covid-19 contact tracing efforts.

"The reason for that is, if an outbreak occurs ... this information can be really critical to help these congregants get knowledge about their potential exposure, so that they can protect themselves and their families as soon as possible," Inslee said.