State issues draft rules for churches to reopen, seeks feedback

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Churches might be allowed to reopen soon for large groups in Colorado, but attending services will likely look much different than before COVID-19 arrived in the state. Worshippers may find they return to churches with individually wrapped communion, hymnals removed from the backs of pews and preachers standing at least 25 feet away from the front row of attendees. They might also find the church choir has been replaced with other forms of music, as singing isn't recommended due to the risk of transmitting the virus.

The state released draft rules for churches to resume in-person services on Monday, asking for feedback from Coloradans by noon Wednesday by using this form. The rules address everything from mandatory mask-wearing to instructions for church leaders to create a "touchless" experience for worshippers, to the point of removing hymnals and providing single-use copies for worshippers or asking them to bring their own materials for the service.

The draft guidance also includes capacity limits – up to 50 percent maximum capacity or 50 people in the primary worship space indoors. Outside, the guidelines recommend groups from different households can be spaced at least six feet apart. Officials also recommended churches shorten their services to minimize the amount of time people are around each other and add more services to accommodate more worshippers.

The guidelines also have a provision requiring masks, and states, "masks must be work at all times while on the premises by staff, volunteers and congregants attending worship services." There is an exception for people who have trouble breathing or children younger than 2 years old.

Regarding church choirs, the state is recommending they "should not be used at this time given the strong risk of virus aerosolization with singing." A church choir in Mt. Vernon, Washington, was identified as a source of infection in an outbreak of COVID-19 when more than 50 people became sick with the virus in March.

Churches should also use a reservation system or some other way to distribute the number of worshippers across services and avoid crowding, and develop a way to screen attendees for symptoms and exclude anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms. There are also requirements for churches to use separate doors for entry and exit, and to have people wait in their cars until a service begins to avoid having people congregate in areas.

The draft guidelines also recommend limiting children's programming at churches, such as Sunday school, to parents who feel they can enforce at least six feet of distance between their children and children from other families.

These guidelines have not been enacted yet, and the state is asking for feedback at this time.