Massachusetts ‘Reopens’ Churches, Limiting Occupancy to 40% Capacity

AP Photo/David Goldman
AP Photo/David Goldman

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) released on Sunday his “mandatory safety standards” for “reopening” the state, which includes the requirement that churches and other houses of worship limit their occupancy to 40 percent of the building’s maximum capacity.

According to the mandatory standards, when houses of worship are permitted to open Monday, the 40 percent occupant count “shall include all persons inside the place of worship, including attendees and staff”:

“Attendees who are not part of the same immediate household must be seated at least 6 feet apart,” the standards state in keeping with social distancing practices. “If there is fixed seating, rows should be blocked off and kept empty to allow for sufficient distancing between rows.”

All occupants of the church buildings are required to wear masks.

The “safety standards” recommend “online sign-up” in advance of church services to allow easier monitoring of the number of attendees.

Also, houses of worship are “encouraged to place tape or other visual distancing markings on seating to delineate 6 foot separations” and to include floor markings to enable one-way aisles.

The NewBostonPost reported Thursday that Catholics in the Boston area are calling on Cardinal Sean O’Malley to reopen churches in his archdiocese.

O’Malley and the other Catholic bishops of Massachusetts have all banned public Masses since mid-March.

“We very much want to resume public Mass and gatherings as soon as it is safe to do so,” Terrence Donilon, Archdiocese of Boston spokesman told the NewBostonPost. “The Archdiocese currently has a team of priests, deacons and the laity working with parishes to devise a phased-in plan for resumption of public Masses as soon as it is determined safe”:

The new Massachusetts standards forbid any services or socializing outside actual worship services, such as child care services or coffee hours, but do allow for food pantry collections.

Additionally, the standards urge houses of worship to collect donations only through mail or electronic contribution sites.

“Places of worship shall be cleaned and disinfected between each service, including disinfection of heavy transit areas and high-touch surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, bathrooms, microphones, shared instruments),” the standards state.

Baker held a press conference Monday morning during which he announced his four-phase “reopening” approach.

In addition to houses of worship, the state’s construction and manufacturing sectors may also reopen on Monday.

Office spaces, laboratories, hair salons and barber shops, car washes, and pet grooming businesses will be permitted to reopen on May 25.

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