Some Utah Churches Preparing To Reopen With Social Distancing Measures
May 6, 2020, 11:44 PM | Updated: 11:51 pm
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – With the state now in a moderate risk phase, some churches are now preparing to welcome back parishioners, provided they maintain strict social distancing between households.
“We want people to come to a place where they feel safe. Where ultimately, they can be encouraged,” said Pastor Nate Taylor, whose been holding virtual services at Corner Canyon Church in Draper for the last several weeks.
But with the state’s shift from high to moderate risk, churches can now physically bring people back together, while staying separate.
“When someone’s worshipping God we don’t want them thinking about, ‘oh I’m in this room with all these people and I’m going to get the COVID,” Taylor said.
For that reason, Taylor planned to reopen church services to parishioners outside of their building in two weeks.
“Indoors is just not going to cut it for us,” he said. But he said they’ll still stream the service online to allow those people who may be uncomfortable going out or at high-risk to participate from home.
“Churches can resume operations,” said retired Major General Jefferson Burton, acting director for the Utah Department of Health. “However, the one non-negotiable stipulation is the six-foot social distancing required by the CDC. So, to the extent that a church can open, maintain that distancing, map the seating. It may be that a small church has to have three Sunday services instead of one.”
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Father Martin Diaz at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City said the pandemic has brought out the best in his parishioners.
“What can we do? How can we help? I’ve seen so much generosity in the last three months,” Diaz said. And he’s excited to welcome those people back when the church returns to a normal service schedule next week.
“I think it’s more work not to have people because we’re trying to figure out how to serve people,” he said. “Even something that seems so devastating is not more powerful than God.”
Diaz was already making seating arrangements at the Cathedral that can hold 800 people.
They plan to keep households of four people six feet apart in every direction, which would only allow about 200 people. But he expected attendance to be down anyway, since about half of their attendance over the summer months comes from tourists who are in Salt Lake City for a convention, vacation or on business.
He said people are under no obligation to come and they will continue to stream the service online.
“People’s health and safety. That’s first. God understands. God wants people to be a thriving community,” he said.
Pastor Paul Robie at South Mountain Community Church in Draper said they plan to wait to open until the state moves into the green or “new normal phase.”
President Russell M. Nelson said leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will continue to monitor information and approach the reopening of meetinghouses and temples with an abundance of caution.
“I love you, dear brothers and sisters, and assure you that wonderful days are ahead,” President Nelson said in a video on his Twitter account. “As we cautiously move forward to a more normal way of life, Church leaders will continue to monitor information and assess how soon we may again gather in our meetinghouses and temples.”
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How Do I Prevent It?
The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:
- Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
- Avoid touching your face
- Stay home when you are sick
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
How To Get Help
If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.
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