Californians are still free to attend their house of worship. But they’re not supposed to sing or chant.
Citing the risk of spreading the coronavirus, updated COVID-19 guidelines issued Wednesday by the state Department of Public Health say “places of worship must therefore discontinue singing and chanting activities.”
In previously allowing religious organizations to reopen in late May, the state merely said these institutions should “strongly consider discontinuing singing, group recitation, and other practices and performances.”
Health agencies such as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say shouting or singing can spread the coronavirus just as easily as coughing or sneezing.
California’s health department agrees, and as Gov. Gavin Newsom begins tightening protocols during a resurgence of the pandemic, it now says singing and chanting are outright banned.
“Activities such as singing and chanting negate the risk reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing,” the state said in its new guidelines.
Houses of worship are now being told to have masks available for congregants who don’t bring one.
‘We recognize that singing is a challenge’
The new guidelines were released the same day Newsom issued his most dramatic reversal yet on reopening the economy, calling on Sacramento and 18 other counties to halt indoor restaurant dining and close movie theaters, card rooms, indoor museums and other venues. Sacramento County’s closures took effect Thursday at 3 p.m.
Unlike the restaurant closures, Newsom said little about the new guidelines on houses of worship, mentioning them only in passing during a press conference Thursday.
It remains to be seen if, or how, the state or counties are expected to end singing in houses of worship. Churches were among the most aggressive institutions in pushing back on Newsom’s original stay-at-home order in mid-March. Several sued the governor to overturn the order, saying it violated their First Amendment rights, although none were successful in court.
One of the Sacramento area’s largest churches, Capital Christian Center, said it hasn’t reviewed the latest guidelines but will follow the new protocols.
“We recognize that singing is a challenge,” said Jason Batt, the church’s chief operating officer.
Batt said Capital Christian has put its choir activities on hold for the time being anyway and has limited singing to a few leaders of the services on stage.
Capital Christian, which can seat up to 4,000 congregants, has limited attendance to just 100 people - the maximum allowed by the state for indoor services. It’s continuing to encourage congregants to watch services online instead of showing up in person.