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IDPH outlines new recommendations for places of worship, religious services

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The Illinois Department of Public Health issued new guidance Thursday for places of worship and religious services.

Current guidelines handed down by the state of Illinois recommend gatherings should consist of no more than 10 people, but new IDPH guidelines outline best practices to keep faith communities safe.

"Even with adherence to physical distancing, multiple different households convening in a congregational setting to worship carries a higher risk for widespread transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19, and may result in increased rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, especially among more vulnerable populations," the IDPH said in its press release. "In particular, the high risk associated with activities such as singing and group recitation can negate the risk-reducing behaviors such as six feet of physical distancing."

The guidelines recommend remote services conducted virtually through technology and drive-in services. Drive-in services could take place with congregants remaining in their vehicle, putting distance between cars if windows are open and restrooms being provided with a heavy amount of hand soap, hand sanitizer, and facilities that are washed frequently.

“Those are our best recommendations," Gov. JB Pritzker said in his daily press conference Thursday. "We’re not providing restrictions, we’re simply providing the best recommendations that we can for keeping people safe.”

For in-person worship, the guidelines recommend outdoor congregations with social distancing maintained between differing households, face masks, sanitized restrooms, among other things.

Per the guidelines, indoor congregations should be limited to less than 10 people where possible.

Capacity limits included in the guidelines suggest six feet or more between worshippers with attendance limited to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 in attendance. Having multiple small services as opposed to one large service is another recommendation, as is not allowing food or drinks into services, and if they are needed, they could be limited to single-use containers.

The guidelines also suggest refraining from singing and group recitation as a way to reduce the spread of illness through exhaled droplets from the mouth.

Screening for temperature and/or sicknesses of illness and COVID-19 are recommended, as are suggestions to stay at home if potential worshippers are ill.

Preemptively using social media, email or the web in some other sense is recommended to make sure potential worshippers are aware of the steps being taken to protect congregants and to disseminate info as to how best keep themselves and those around them healthy while worshipping.

Cleaning and disinfecting protocols were laid out for places of worship.

"Perform thorough cleaning of high traffic areas such as lobbies, halls, chapels, meeting rooms, offices, libraries, and study areas and areas of ingress and egress including stairways, stairwells, handrails, and elevator controls," the IDPH said. "Frequently disinfect commonly used surfaces including doorknobs, toilets, handwashing facilities, pulpits and podiums, donation boxes or plates, altars, and pews and seating areas."

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has issued its own guidelines as well.

"I have never encouraged any police enforcement or any other kind of breaking up of gatherings," Pritzker said Thursday. "What I have said is pastors should use their best judgment and the science and data and should follow the recommendations that have been made. But I realize some have ignored that.”

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