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  • Writer's pictureMLWA 7

Inslee announces religious and faith-based services guidance

PHOTO BY: Sendero Life Center

- Olympia, WA

Gov. Jay Inslee today announced the state’s plan for restarting religious and faith-based services for Phases 1 and 2 of Washington’s “Safe Start” reopening plan.

Beginning today, religious and faith-based organizations in Phase 1 counties may host up to 100 people for outdoor services. In Phase 2, they can host up to 25% of their capacity or 50 individuals, whichever is less, as well as conduct in-home services of five people.

“As I have said before, this crisis may affect our ability to physically connect but it should not affect our power to strengthen our emotional connections,” Inslee said during a press conference Wednesday. “I have been heartened to see the ways religious groups found to not only continue to connect, but to give back and to support their communities in this time of suffering and uncertainty.”

The religious services covered include all worship services, religious study classes, religious ceremonies, religious holiday celebrations, weddings, and funerals. Choirs are not allowed, but singing may be done with face coverings. This is because the virus is transmitted through breathing: The louder voices are projected, the farther germs travel. Organizations will be expected to meet requirements to protect employees, members, visitors and volunteers. These requirements include protections such as social distancing and face coverings, environmental cleaning, providing PPE, and educating employees about COVID-19 and how to prevent transmission.

“We appreciate the governor and his team being thoughtful, prudent and measured as we figure out how to best exit from this pandemic and the lock down. Saving lives, community safety and the well-being of the most vulnerable among us are of paramount importance for Muslims, given the teachings of Islam. Working with the governor’s office and public health officials, we have to collaboratively determine how to best move forward preserving human life and health while also finding a path to safely return to our places of worship, our places of business and our places of enjoyment,” said Aneelah Afzali, executive director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound. “Faith communities have adapted to stay connected in creative and extraordinary ways during the height of this pandemic. We welcome the governor’s measured and gradual approach to reconvening in person that puts community health first and reminds us that we are all each other’s neighbors,” said Michael Ramos, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. “As the three Lutheran bishops in the State of Washington serving in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we wish to thank and affirm the governor for the thoughtful and cautious way in which he is guiding our State during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rev. Shelley Bryan Wee, bishop of the Northwest Washington Synod.

“We, the Catholic Bishops of the State of Washington, are encouraged by the governor’s directives today allowing people of faith to resume public worship. These directives are evidence of the good fruits which are born from patient dialogue and commitment to the public health and the common good,” said the Catholic Bishops of the State of Washington in a joint statement.

All organizations are strongly encouraged, but not required, to keep a voluntary log of attendees from services or counseling sessions and retain the information for at least two weeks to assist in contact tracing if an outbreak were to occur. “We have made tremendous progress, and with Washingtonians united, I know we will continue moving out of this crisis in a safe and healthy way,” Inslee said.

The guidance is available here. During the press conference, the governor also announced that three new counties have been approved by the secretary of health for variance to move to Phase 2. This brings the total of counties approved to 24.

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