CLEVELAND (WJW) — Many of Ohio’s houses of worship began reopening this weekend after President Donald Trump declared them as essential services on Friday.
The President identified churches, synagogues and mosques as essential services and called on governors to allow them to reopen this weekend despite the threat of the coronavirus. He also said he would overrule any governor who refused to reopen churches.
Following Trump’s declaration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines on how to safely reopen communities of faith. This included recommendations to limit the size of gatherings and consider holding services outdoors or in large, well-ventilated areas.
While this statement didn’t directly impact Ohio’s governor, as Mike DeWine never ordered churches to close under his stay-at-home order, many places of worship had chosen to close due to the pandemic.
“You know, churches have never been closed by our order. They were exempt,” Governor DeWine reiterated in a Friday interview with our sister station WTRF. “Any religious services were exempt. Weddings were exempt. Funerals were exempt. So, that has never been a part of our order at all. We have cautioned people to be careful. People have been very cautious about being safe, but at the same time, they obviously want to continue to worship God and to practice their religion.”
DeWine also explained that religious organizations are still encouraged to practice social distancing while pews and not to shake hands, as the coronavirus is still a prominent threat.
Now, as several religious houses begin to reopen, they acknowledge that services may look, sound and feel different to attendees as they adjust to a new normal.
For example, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland will reopen its doors for in-person Mass on or after May 25 but will be initiating several changes.
Parishioners will be required to wear masks and sit six feet apart; families will be permitted to sit together. The sign of peace will be eliminated from the service. Hymnals will be removed from pews and singing will be eliminated from services. The church occupancy will also be limited to 50% of its typical capacity.
Ohioans are encouraged to reach out to their religious organizations for specific information about your church, synagogue or mosque’s reopening practices.