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Inland Empire will worship in person after state gives green light

Residents seeking to have public health orders rescinded attend an emergency meeting of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors
Residents seeking to have public health orders rescinded attend an emergency meeting of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in early May.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The past three days have brought notable changes to the Inland Empire, as both Riverside and San Bernardino counties were given the green light to further reopen.

Following an announcement last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom that would ease reopening rules in some counties, dine-in restaurants and malls were cleared for business — though with some restrictions — in both Riverside and San Bernardino.

The two counties also plan to resume in-person worship services this week after the state on Monday released new coronavirus health guidance for religious services, saying houses of worship must limit total attendance to 25% of a building’s capacity and stop passing around offering plates, in addition to taking other precautions.

The state’s plan will alter religious services in dramatic ways, and it’s unlikely to end the push by some churches to allow more regular worship operations.

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Staff, visitors and congregants are discouraged from singing, holding potluck meals or shaking hands and hugging. Religious institutions are asked to “strongly consider” outdoor services.

Other state-mandated guidelines require temperature checks for parishioners, the disinfecting of common areas and the installation of hand sanitizer dispensers.

Riverside County officials petitioned the state on May 15 for special consideration of the reopening of religious services.

“People of all faiths have been longing for the day when they can worship with each other in person again,” Supervisor Karen Spiegel said. “An important part of getting through this together is keeping our faith strong. By taking these safety precautions, we can choose to practice our faith in person again and do so safely.”

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The occupancy limit for services will remain in place for the first 21 days after a county health department has approved the resumption of religious services and cultural ceremonies in their jurisdiction.

After 21 days, the California Department of Public Health, in consultation with county health officials, will review and assess the effect of the imposed limits and provide further direction as part of a phased-in restoration of activities in places of worship.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution supporting the resumption of in-person religious assemblies starting this weekend.

County officials called the church plans a step forward, but also warned the coronavirus is still a threat.

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“The COVID-19 virus is still very present throughout our county,” Supervisor Curt Hagman said. “With places of worship, dine-in restaurants, stores and malls now suddenly open, it is more important than ever that we practice physical distancing, wear face coverings in public and frequently wash our hands to protect ourselves and those around us.”

Riverside County officials most recently reported the addition of 135 new coronavirus cases and 11 virus-related deaths. A total of 303 people have died since the pandemic began, and there have been 7,139 confirmed cases.

Neighboring San Bernardino County had 4,567 COVID-19 cases and 176 deaths as of Tuesday afternoon.


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