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Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton Update Guidance for Houses of Worship as Texas Reopens

Wednesday, April 29, 2020
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Governor Abbott

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Attorney General Paxton

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an updated joint guidance regarding the effect of Governor Abbott’s Executive Order GA-18 on religious services conducted by congregations and houses of worship. It recommends health protocols for houses of worship to guard the health and safety of their attendees while serving their respective communities of faith.

“Houses of worship face particular challenges as Texans work to combat this pandemic. This updated guidance provides clear direction to protect the health and safety of faith groups as they plan for future religious gatherings,” said Attorney General Paxton. “All Texans must continue to work together to care for the health and safety of our neighbors as we work to reopen the state.”

The updated guidance continues to protect the rights of Texans to freely exercise their religion. Executive Order GA-18 defines essential services to include “religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship.” State and local government orders may not prohibit people from providing or obtaining those religious services.

Minimum Health Protocols for Houses of Worship In accordance with Governor Abbott’s executive order GA-18, the following are the minimum recommended health protocols for all churches, congregations, and houses of worship in Texas. Churches, congregations, and houses of worship may adopt additional protocols consistent with their specific needs and circumstances to help protect the health and safety of all Texans. The same minimum standard health protocols would apply to funeral services, burials, and memorials. We know now that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to others by infected persons who have few or no symptoms. Even if an infected person is only mildly ill, the people they spread it to may become seriously ill or even die, especially if that person is 65 or older with pre-existing health conditions that place them at higher risk.

Because of the hidden nature of this threat, everyone should rigorously follow the practices specified in these protocols, all of which facilitate a safe and measured reopening of Texas. The virus that causes COVID-19 is still circulating in our communities. We should continue to observe practices that protect everyone, including those who are most vulnerable. Please note, public health guidance cannot anticipate every unique situation. Churches, congregations, and places of worship should stay informed and take actions based on common sense and wise judgment that will protect health and support economic revitalization. Churches, congregations, and places of worship should also be mindful of federal and state employment laws and workplace safety standards.

Houses of worship should conduct as many activities as possible remotely, and should follow the minimum health protocols listed in the guidelines when providing services in person. Health protocols for serving your attendees should be to strongly encourage the at-risk population to watch or participate in the service remotely The church should designate an area inside the facility reserved for the at-risk population, or offer a service for at-risk population attendees only. Also there should be proper spacing between attendees.

Employees and volunteers will also need health protocols such as training all employees and volunteers on appropriate cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene, and respiratory etiquette. Employees and volunteers should be screened before coming into the church, congregation, or place of worship. Have employees or volunteers wash or sanitize their hands upon entering. Continue to have employees or volunteers maintain at least 6 feet separation from other individuals. If such distancing is not feasible, then other measures including face covering, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, cleanliness, and sanitation should be rigorously practiced. Churches, congregations, and places of worship across the state should be consistent with their health protocol actions.