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Church services can resume, National Guard will play bigger role in testing for coronavirus in Utah

(Interior of The Cathedral of the Madeline in Salt Lake City. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL file)

SALT LAKE CITY — The head of Utah’s coronavirus response task force is bringing in the Utah National Guard to increase the state’s ability to test people who aren’t showing symptoms.  Plus, he’s hoping to clear up some confusion about religious services in the state. 

When Governor Gary Herbert lowered the state’s risk level and loosened restrictions on social interaction, he said groups should be kept to no more than 20 people

However, retired Major General Jeff Burton, who leads the Utah Coronavirus Task Force, said there is a lot of confusion about the order.

Burton stated the order was directed at family and social gatherings. Under the new gathering order, church services are allowed to resume. There are some requirements, though.

“The one non-negotiable stipulation is the six-foot social distancing required by the CDC,” said Burton.

When the risk level went from red to orange, it allowed churches to open their doors but they have to post signs reminding everyone to keep six feet apart. 

Churches were asked to stream services when they could, and they have to set aside separate times for high-risk people to take part in the services without any “pressure from crowds.”  Additionally, church leaders were asked to consider holding multiple meetings.

“[It depends on] the extent that a church can open, maintain that distancing, and map the seating.  It may be the small church has to have three Sunday services instead of one,” Burton outlined. 


 

RESPONSES FROM RELIGIOUS LEADERS

So, can we expect services to resume, soon?  For some churches, yes.  For others, no.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced they’re still monitoring “current situations.”  Church officials also say President Russell M. Nelson, “ assures step-by-step measures will be communicated to make sure it is safe to gather and revisit Church-sponsored activities.”

The timeline is different for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.  Reverend Joseph Delka with The Cathedral of the Madeline issued a state to KSL that reads…

Speaking for the Cathedral specifically, we will make the formal announcement this weekend through our live-streamed Masses and other media. The current plan (subject to change over the next few days) is to resume the normal Mass schedule on Monday. We have measures in place to ensure proper social distancing and sanitation. Since our capacity is still limited we are also working on a way to have parishioners sign up for a Mass. This will also help with contact tracing should someone get the virus. At-risk groups are still encouraged to stay home and we will continue live-streaming the Masses for those who are unable to come. 

Some of the details are still being worked out especially now with the news that more people can come. Obviously, this is a complex issue and we want to do our best to keep everyone as safe as possible. 

Rabbi Avremi Zippel with the Chabad Congregation in Salt Lake states…

“Tentatively our plan is to hold our first in-person services with the upcoming Jewish Holiday Shavuot May 29-30. The last Friday and Saturday in May.  We are planning on taking every precaution to make sure we adhere to social distance guidelines.” 

Also, Imam Yasir Butt with the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake sent a statement that reads…

“We are giving that decision to our own committee that is headed by our own doctor.  The last thing we want to do is be the epicenter of the second wave.  We’re not at the point that we feel comfortable. In our services, people are really close to each other, they stand close together. I don’t think anyone has the ability to regulate (the social distancing) guidelines.” 

UTAH NATIONAL GUARD’S ROLE

Over the next few days, people can expect to see the Utah National Guard take a larger role in testing for coronavirus.  Burton says 120 guardsmen will be testing health care workers who aren’t showing symptoms.

“They’ll also be testing folks that are in vulnerable groups, communities where there is an outbreak and so forth,” Burton says.  “They’ll be able to help us with rapid response to hotspots.”

The latest numbers show 5,595 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Utah with 464 hospitalizations and 58 deaths.

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