As people across Virginia prepare for Phase 1 of Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan to reopen, churches are also figuring out their new operations.
Northam last week announced the state would start a three-tiered reopening, which will begin on May 15. This will allow places of worship to offer drive-in services and services at 50 percent capacity.
However, this phase comes with many other specific criteria for places of worship. According to a document from Northam’s office, places of worship must adhere to the following requirements:
- No more than 50 percent occupancy
- Individuals must be six feet apart during services, except for family members
- Individuals are encouraged to wear masks to services
- Items must not be passed between attendees
- Any items used to distribute food must be disposable
- Cleaning and disinfection on surfaces must be done before and after services
- Signage must be posted stating individuals with coronavirus symptoms are not permitted to enter
If a place of worship cannot adhere to those requirements, they should not conduct in-person services.
The governor’s office also provided a list of “suggested best practices” in addition to the requirements. This includes using separate doors for entering and exiting buildings, designating a health coordinator or health equity team, installing touchless door entry systems and more.
But even with those, it’s difficult for places of worship to decide how to move forward.
Sam Samorian, director of development for Saint Bede Catholic Church, said the church is still working to finalize a plan for reopening. The difficulty is making sure the facility is prepared and deciding which suggested guidelines they should take into account.
“There’s other things we have to decide on,” Samorian said. “For example, they’ve only encouraged face coverings but we might require them…we have to look at all those things before opening, simple things like a drinking fountain, and it’s a lot more complicated than you think.”
Saint Bede is working with the Catholic Diocese of Richmond to determine best practices and plans to have an announcement about services by the end of the week.
“We’re doing what we can,” Samorian said. “If we can put everything in place to where we’re confident we’re in compliance with state and local regulations, we’ll open if we’re ready.”
Dr. Muhammad Amer, chairman of trustees at the Peninsula Islamic Community Center in Hampton, said they are continuing to keep the mosque closed until the end of Ramadan.
“We decide after Ramadan what we will do in terms of reopening,” he said.
Amer, who also works as a physician at Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News, feels Northam was pressured by other churches to reopen religious institutions at 50 percent capacity and the decision to do so is not based on data.
“That is another challenging thing, who are you going to allow, who are you not going to allow?” Amer said, in terms of possibly reopening the mosque. “In our mosque, social distancing becomes a big issue and we stand next to each other.”
The mosque will continue to live streaming Jumah Friday prayers and Ramadan services on Facebook and follow CDC guidelines.
Amer said the mosques in Hampton Roads will decide next week how they will celebrate Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.
WYDaily reached out to other churches and religious denominations in the Historic Triangle but they were not immediately available for comment.
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