It’s an answer to many prayers: After more than two months of coronavirus-induced public closure, Oahu churches are allowed to reopen, starting today.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Thursday signed the order enabling resumption of in-person church services with restrictions, as well as in-dining at restaurants restarting June 5. The new guidelines for churches and restaurants — both among activities or businesses considered medium-risk — also were approved by Gov. David Ige.
Church congregation members must maintain a 6-foot distance, with the exception of same-household members. Churches are encouraged to limit the number of attendees at services to ensure social distancing, and develop plans for the use of masks, sanitation, hygiene and safeguards for higher-risk populations.
Tough as it’s been for houses of worship in recent months, Hawaii has seen mostly acceptance and adherence. That’s in marked contrast to spots on the mainland, where churches have filed lawsuits against the government, with some being downright defiant with large gatherings of worshippers.
In California, for instance, churches sued to try to overturn statewide stay-home orders, contending the restrictions deprived them of religious freedom. Federal judges have ruled to uphold the bans, citing public health and prevention of coronavirus spread — but this week, both the U.S. Department of Justice and President Trump started pressing for churches’ reopening. And more than 1,200 pastors say they will resume in-person services on May 31, regardless.
However events play out nationwide, the wisdom of banning large gatherings is clear after two Southern churches — in Georgia and Texas — were forced to recently close again after leaders and congregants contracted coronavirus after reopening. And this week, ABC News identified at least 33 bishops, reverends and pastors in nearly a dozen states who have died from the coronavirus.
Very luckily for Hawaii, very low numbers of COVID-19 cases inform and justify the decision to carefully reopen churches and restaurants. Cases have remained considerably flattened since May 13, when Caldwell began partial easing of church closures — to allow “in vehicle” services, though not in-church services.
Certainly, there still should be no packing of the pews. But starting today, houses of worship can start reopening doors here — with social distancing, controlled numbers of attendees, masks and sanitizing protocols, of course.