Newsletter: Come all ye faithful, but with some restrictions

St. Joachim Catholic Church in Costa Mesa held virtual mass with photos on the pews sent in by parishioners, and a drive-through confession event on Saturday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, May 26, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. A time for barring all gatherings, including in-person religious services, under an unprecedented stay-at-home order during a pandemic. And a time for reopening houses of worship, with limited attendance and strict guidelines.


Amid growing political pressure on Gov. Gavin Newsom to address church reopenings, the California Department of Public Health has announced that in-person religious services across the state can resume — albeit with quite a few restrictions.

[Read the story: “California limits church capacity to 25% for reopening, adds other restrictions” in the Los Angeles Times]

Attendance at services will be capped at 25% of total capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower. The attendance limits will be in place for 21 days and then reassessed. The reopening of houses of worship will be subject to approval by county departments of public health, and some localities may choose to push back their own reopening dates.

The 13-page document outlining the guidelines, released by the California Department of Public Health and Cal/OSHA, strongly encourage churches, mosques, temples and other houses of worship to continue to facilitate remote services for those who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

[See also: “How do you connect with your faith under coronavirus self-quarantine? Take it online” in the Los Angeles Times]

Churches, which have become a flashpoint in the coronavirus culture wars, have been linked to a number of coronavirus cases around the state. As my colleague Monte Morin notes in his story, the religious aspect of the shutdown has been much debated, though the vast majority of houses of worship have willingly complied with the rules to keep their members safe. Still, some churches have filed lawsuits, and a few have defied the order.

On Friday night, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Newsom’s prior ban on in-person church services in a split ruling that landed hours after President Trump had deemed houses of worship “essential” and called on governors to allow them to reopen despite the threat of the coronavirus.

The rethinking of the state moratorium also came just ahead of Pentecost Sunday, which falls on May 31 this year. More than 1,200 pastors had vowed to hold in-person services on the holy day, in defiance of what had been the state guidelines.

An overview of the guidelines

The newly issued guidelines overlap with those already released for other sectors (establish a workplace-specific COVID-19 prevention plan at every location, screening staff for symptoms at the beginning of their shifts, etc.) in many ways, but with some distinctly religious specifics added to the mix. The high-touch surfaces to be frequently disinfected include not just doorknobs and toilets but also pulpits and podiums, donation boxes, altars and pews. Much as restaurants are being discouraged from offering shared items like condiments or napkin caddies (or instructed to disinfect between each use if they must be shared), houses of worship will be discouraged from sharing items used during services, such as prayer books, cushions and prayer rugs. It’s suggested that they now provide single-use or digital copies or ask congregants to bring their own personal items instead.

Among other things, congregants must be screened for fever or other symptoms of illness and are asked to use hand sanitizer and wear face coverings. The passing of offering plates will also be discontinued.

Disposable seat covers are suggested for houses of worship that host multiple daily services, and religious garments and linens should be washed at the highest water temperature possible after each event.

The guidance also comes with quite a warning label, cautioning that even “with adherence to physical distancing, convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households to practice a personal faith carries a relatively higher risk for widespread transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and may result in increased rates of infection, hospitalization, and death” and noting that “activities such as singing and group recitation negate the risk-reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing.”

Singing plays a fundamental role in many religious services, but it also carries unique risks during the coronavirus crisis. As individuals project their voices to join together in song, they could also be dispersing viral particles into the room. Choirs have been associated with a number of so-called super-spreader events, including a choir practice in early March that led to a large outbreak in Washington state. California’s guidelines urge houses of worship to “strongly consider discontinuing singing, group recitation, and other practices and performances where there is increased likelihood for transmission from contaminated exhaled droplets.”

In a separate guidance released Monday, the state also said that, subject to approval by county public health departments, all retail stores can reopen for in-store shopping under previously issued guidelines.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Three Republican groups have sued Newsom over his executive order to send mail-in ballots to California’s 20.6 million voters in November. Newsom issued the order on May 8, making California the first state in the nation to temporarily shift to all-mail voting as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The suit was brought by the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the California Republican Party. The complaint echoes those made by President Trump, who has criticized mail-in ballots as “dangerous” and fraudulent and threatened to withhold federal funding from some states that have sought to expand mail voting. Los Angeles Times

California elections officials suggest schools as voting sites to ensure social distancing: Elections officials across the state, seeking a way to offer in-person voting in November with strict coronavirus protections, are urging lawmakers to close schools in the days leading up to and including election day and allow campus gyms and auditoriums to be used. Los Angeles Times

On Memorial Day, Southern California honors fallen service members and those on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic. On a day typically marked by parades, solemn ceremonies and barbecues, communities across Southern California this year donned face masks and turned instead to TV screens and computer monitors to honor those who lost their lives in service to our nation. Los Angeles Times

This activist was a Hollywood darling for fighting the dog meat trade. But butchers say he staged killings. He denies it. Los Angeles Times


How the coronavirus has upended life for thousands at California’s largest apartment complex. Greetings from Park La Brea, where more than 10,000 people are connected via elevators, hallways, tree-lined paths and parking lots. Los Angeles Times

[See also: “I live in an apartment complex. If I get coronavirus, am I supposed to tell people?” in the Los Angeles Times]

The Runyon Canyon of the San Gabriel Valley: County officials shut access to Eaton Canyon north of Pasadena on Sunday afternoon after seeing “overwhelming crowds” at the popular trail, which remained closed Monday. Pasadena Star-News

Eaton Canyon falls
But you can still take a brief mental vacation to Eaton Canyon Falls with this photo.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

A UCLA graduate seminar becomes a crash course in coronavirus crisis management for former L.A. councilman and supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s students. Los Angeles Times

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The coronavirus is killing so many people in Tijuana that the morgue has run out of refrigerator space for bodies. The Mexican Red Cross is on the front lines of the pandemic in the border city. Los Angeles Times


Trump threatened to pull the Republican National Convention out of North Carolina if the state’s Democratic governor didn’t immediately sign off on allowing a full-capacity gathering in August, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Los Angeles Times

Bernie Sanders, iconoclast-turned-team player, leans in to help Joe Biden. Sanders is stepping up to help former rival Biden in ways likely to far exceed what he did for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Los Angeles Times

Marin’s Dr. Matt Willis holds the dubious distinction of being one of the only California public health officers known to have come down with COVID-19. Having now recovered, he may also be the state’s only public health officer to have developed antibodies, which puts him in a unique spot to fight the coronavirus. Los Angeles Times


Coronavirus widens the healthcare divide between red states and blue states: Regional differences have long been a hallmark of American healthcare. But the gap between blue and red states has yawned wider in the 10 years of political battles that followed passage of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Now, the coronavirus crisis threatens to further disparities as tens of millions of Americans lose jobs and health coverage. Los Angeles Times

The World Health Organization said that it will temporarily drop hydroxychloroquine — the antimalarial drug U.S. President Trump says he is taking — from its global study into experimental COVID-19 treatments, saying that its experts need to review all available evidence to date. Los Angeles Times

A surge of coronavirus cases in Santa Cruz is tied to family gatherings, including a multigenerational Mother’s Day celebration. San Francisco Chronicle


Will the “baseball rule” apply to reopening movie theaters and theme parks? What more than a century’s worth of lawsuits over foul balls can teach us about placing legal responsibility for COVID-19 injuries. The Hollywood Reporter

A four-alarm fire on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf that destroyed a processing and storage warehouse will have deep ramifications for the local fishing industry. San Francisco Chronicle

Players packed chairs as some Southern California casinos reopened. “Slot machines were turned off, chairs were removed and in the casinos we visited, employees could be seen moving about the casino floor and sanitizing slot machine screens, buttons, counter tops and more.” Pasadena Star-News

Need a change of scenery? This historic Victorian hotel overlooking Monterey Bay could be yours, for a cool $17.25 million. San Luis Obispo Tribune

The pandemic has proved to be a boon for bike shops, as thousands of cooped-up Americans snap up new bicycles or dust off decades-old two-wheelers to stay fit, keep their sanity or have a safe alternative to public transportation. Associated Press


Former Berkeley resident Mark Bittman gives a local outlet some tips on mastering his famous no-knead bread. (Hint: Bread flour matters, and not all salts are created equal.) Berkeleyside

Even the pandemic couldn’t stop opening day sales for Fresno State’s famous sweet corn. “Keep living life, but do it safely,” a shopper waiting in line with his 5-year-old daughter for the yellow and white corn told a reporter. He’d been coming to the opening day of corn sales since he was about his daughter’s age. Fresno Bee

A poem to start your Tuesday: “Untitled” by James Baldwin. Poetry Foundation

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Los Angeles: sunny, 85. San Diego: sunny, 78. San Francisco: sunny, 75. San Jose: sunny, 96. Fresno: sunny, 105. Sacramento: sunny, 103. More weather is here.


This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California:

Former L.A. City Councilman who left mid-term to become a lobbyist Felipe Fuentes (May 25, 1971), singer Stevie Nicks (May 26, 1948), actress Pam Grier (May 26, 1949), Clippers consultant and former Laker Jerry West (May 28, 1938), Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus (May 30, 1966) and former mayor of Carmel Clint Eastwood (May 31, 1930).

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.