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A guide to a stay-at-home coronavirus Easter in Southern California

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Storm clouds move in as guitarist Javon Jones of the Antioch Church sings gospel hymns during a live-streamed sunrise Easter service on Mt. Rubidoux during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

This will be an Easter like no other amid stay-at-home restrictions because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The message from officials: Enjoy Easter but do it at home.

That’s not to say that worshipers shouldn’t feel free to practice their faith, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, but “as you pray, move your feet at least six feet apart from someone else.”

“Practice your faith,” he said, “but do so in a way that allows you to keep yourself healthy, keep others healthy and does justice to the teaching of Christ, God and others.”

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Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s director of public health, requested this week that any planned in-person or car gatherings for Holy Week or Passover be canceled.

Parks


Easter is typically a busy day at local parks and recreation areas.

But not this year.

All public parks in Los Angeles County will be closed Easter Sunday. “I know your heart breaks…. This is such a great tradition for the many families we have,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “But we can’t afford to have one cluster of even just a few people together spread this disease to more people and kill them.”

Other counties are following suit with closures.

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Already, trails, recreation areas and beaches are closed.

Worship

Many churches are holding virtual Easter Sunday services.

“We celebrate Easter this year at home, but we know that our God is with us,” said Archbishop José H. Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in a statement. “Even in times like this, when we see trouble in the world, and we are afraid for the future. Jesus rises to tell us that his love is stronger than death! Christ is risen and we will rise with him! This is the promise of Easter. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, not persecution, famine, pestilence, or plague. And not this pandemic.”

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Gomez’s Easter Sunday Masses will be broadcast at 7 a.m. in Spanish and 10 a.m. in English.

“This Holy Week will be different,” Gomez said. “Our churches may be closed, but Christ is not quarantined and his Gospel is not in chains. Our Lord’s heart remains open to every man and woman. Even though we cannot worship together, each of us can seek him in the tabernacles of our own hearts.”

San Bernardino County has urged churches to hold only virtual Easter services.

“People may not leave their homes for driving parades or drive-up services or to pick up nonessential items such as prepackaged Easter eggs or bags filled with candy and toys at a drive-through location,” the county said in a statement this week.

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After announcing the initial ban, however, the county pulled back and said drive-in religious services could proceed, but congregants must be kept apart.

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In Orange County, the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, the son of the pastor who built Garden Grove’s Crystal Cathedral, is temporarily reviving the drive-in ministry.

“We are gathering together in our cars and we are not touching,” Schuller, 65, said. “But we are able to get close to it by looking in someone else’s eyes and waving.”

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Schuller began holding in-car services at a Santa Ana office complex two Sundays ago, and plans to continue hosting them every Sunday “until the churches reopen.”

The pastor said he wouldn’t be surprised to see 300 families on Easter, one of the holiest days for Christians. Sunday’s service will start at 10 a.m., when parishioners can flip their radio dials to 105.7 FM and stream the service.

A federal judge declined on Friday to allow a small Campo-based Christian church to assemble for Easter services on Sunday, turning aside a lawsuit the church had filed against San Diego County that alleged the public health orders banning group gatherings discriminated against religion.

U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant turned down the request for a temporary restraining order against the county from Abiding Place Ministries. The church had filed a suit Thursday contending the public health order issued Wednesday that banned public or private gatherings of more than one person was unconstitutional and too broad, violating the religious freedom of the church.

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Staying at home

Easter 2020 comes amid growing calls for social distancing as the best way to slow the coronavirus spread.

This week, officials expanded already extraordinary restrictions. On Friday, a Los Angeles order requiring people to wear masks or face coverings when shopping and taking essential trips took effect. The rule also requires essential workers to cover their faces.

Beverly Hills has gone even further. The city said people must wear face coverings when they leave their homes, including for walks through the neighborhood.

Even with the dramatic social distancing the county is now seeing, officials forecast that up to 30% of residents could be infected by midsummer without more behavioral changes, such as reducing shopping trips.

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As a result, Los Angeles County is extending the stay-at-home order for California’s most populous county through at least May 15.

It could last into the summer.


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