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Gov. Walz signs executive order to allow safe worship, weddings, funerals

KSTP
Updated: May 23, 2020 10:38 PM
Created: May 23, 2020 01:53 PM

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan announced on Saturday that starting Wednesday, places of worship may open at 25% occupancy if they adhere to social distancing and other public health guidelines to keep congregants safe. 

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According to a release, Walz and Fanagan partnered with Minnesota faith leaders on a plan for places of worship who decide to open to do so as safely as possible. 

“I have had many meaningful conversations with faith leaders over the last few weeks,” Walz said. “From a personal and public health perspective, the decision around places of worship has been a challenging one since the beginning of the pandemic. We know large gatherings of people raise the risk of spreading COVID-19. We also know worship is an essential part of many Minnesotans’ lives, including mine.”

Through consultation with Minnesota faith leaders, the Minnesota Department of Health has developed additional guidance for faith-based communities, places of worship and services. 

According to the executive order, places of worship, funeral homes and other venues that offer gathering space for weddings, funerals, and planned services such as worship, rituals, prayer meetings, scripture studies, may host such services with over 10 people, provided that they adhere to the below requirements: 

  • In all settings, ensure a minimum of 6 feet of physical distancing between households. 
  • In indoor settings, occupancy must not exceed 25 percent of the normal occupant capacity as determined by the fire marshal, with a maximum of 250 people in a single self-contained space. 
  •  In outdoor settings, gatherings must not exceed 250 individuals.
  • Develop and implement a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan in accordance with guidance developed by the Minnesota Department of Health and available here.

The state also developed guidance on how to conduct religious services safely.

Singing is considered an especially high-risk activity because it "more forcefully expels respiratory droplets than speaking." In lieu of singing, churches are being asked to play pre-recorded music during services or have one cantor sing at least 12 feet away from any other congregants.

Read KSTP's full coronavirus coverage

Communion would look a lot different under the new guidelines, too:

  • If churches cannot make Communion touch-free for all participants, they are asked to only distribute the sacrament hand-to-hand and not hand-to-mouth.
  • All participants should wear face coverings.
  • Both the distributor and the receiver should extend their arms as far as is comfortable to maintain a safe distance of 6 feet.
  • The distributor should use hand sanitizer before Communion and should sanitize again after touching their face, sneezing, coughing or significant touching of another person.
  • Hand sanitizer should be used before and after taking off a face covering for Communion.

A full list of guidelines for worship services, funerals and weddings is available here.

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said churches that choose to reopen should be aware that large gatherings are still a huge risk for spreading coronavirus.

“Large gatherings continue to present a clear documented risk for increasing the spread of COVID-19,” says Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “This does not mean we are at the other side of this. We are not in a position of being able to drop all of these precautions. This is not a return to normal.” 

Earlier this week, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul said he would allow some churches to reopen in defiance of the governor's orders. The Lutheran Church of Minnesota-Missouri Synod also publicly stated it would reopen for worship.

In a statement on Saturday, Hebda said the previous restrictions, which would have limited religious gatherings to 10 people or fewer "unreasonably burdened the Church's ability to fully meet the sacramental needs of our faithful."

Walz reportedly met with Hebda and other faith leaders on Thursday to reach an agreement on how to conduct worship services safely.

"I am so thankful for the honest, open, and fast-paced dialogue we had over these past days and am pleased we could come to a consensus about a reasonable and safe path forward that allows a greater number of people to safely return to worship beginning May 27," Hebda said in a statement.

With the step to reopen places of worship, Walz emphasized the need for Minnesotans to stay safe and limit their social interactions outside of the home.

“Each step we take brings risk and responsibility for all,” Walz continued. “My family will continue to practice our faith via video at home. I urge all Minnesotans to continue to limit their in-person interactions with people outside of their households, and I strongly urge Minnesotans at heightened risk to stay home. Those who disregard public health guidance endanger not only themselves, but their families and their neighbors.”

The release also stated that to update Walz's order, he signed Executive Order 20-62 amending his previous orders to allow for safe worship, weddings and funerals.


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