Inslee announces limited outdoor religious services are now allowed

Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday 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 Wednesday, religious and faith-based organizations in Phase 1 counties — including Snohomish — 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. Inslee said 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.

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 in the state have been approved by the secretary of health for variance to move to Phase 2. This brings the total of counties approved to 24.

No word yet on when Snohomish County will be able to move to Phase 2, although county officials last week said the county would not be ready to move to that phase — which includes the reopening of retail stores and restaurants to indoor customers — by June 1.

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