Californians are still free to attend their house of worship. But they’re forbidden from singing or chanting.
Updated COVID-19 guidelines issued Wednesday by the state Department of Public Health require churches and other houses of worship to “discontinue singing and chanting activities.”
In previously allowing religious organizations to reopen in late May, the state merely said these institutions should “strongly consider discontinuing singing, group recitation, and other practices and performances.”
Health agencies such as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say shouting or singing can spread the coronavirus just as easily as coughing or sneezing.
California’s health department agrees, and as Gov. Gavin Newsom begins tightening protocols during a resurgence of the pandemic, it now says singing and chanting are outright banned.
“Activities such as singing and chanting negate the risk reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing,” the state said in its new guidelines.
Houses of worship are now being told to have masks available for congregants who don’t bring one.
The new guidelines were released the same day Newsom issued his most dramatic reversal yet on reopening the economy, calling on Sacramento and 18 other counties to halt indoor restaurant dining and close movie theaters, card rooms, indoor museums and other venues. Sacramento County’s closures took effect Thursday at 3 p.m.
Unlike the restaurant closures, Newsom said little about the new guidelines on houses of worship, mentioning them only in passing during a press conference Thursday.
It remains to be seen if, or how, the state or counties are expected to enforce the ban on singing in houses of worship. Churches were among the most aggressive institutions in pushing back on Newsom’s original stay-at-home order in mid-March. Several sued the governor to overturn the order, saying it violated their First Amendment rights, althoughnone was successful in court.
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