Despite US government approval, temples wait for right time to restart in-person worship

Ritu Jha-

Even though the California Department of Public Health announced the statewide reopening of places of worship for religious services and in-store retail shopping, Northern California temples say they will wait.

“It’s risky seeing the number of rising COVID-19 cases in Santa Clara,” Balwant Birla, chairman of the Santa Clara-based Sunnyvale Hindu Temple, told indica.

California’s new guidance, announced Monday, allow places of worship to hold religious services and funerals with attendance limited to 25% of a building’s capacity – or up to 100 attendees, whichever is lower – upon approval by the county’s department of public health.

The new guidelines issued by the state don’t include personal services such as hair salons, nail salons and barbershops, and health officials say modifications are required to keep Californians safe and limit the spread of COVID-19.

Birla also was concerned, saying, “It’s hard to control the crowd. So, even though the state or president says, they (temples) would like to wait.”

So does Acharya Pandit Krsihna Kumar Pandey founder and president of Shiv Durga Temple in Sunnyvale, California. He said they will go through the regulations first. The temple was closed on March 14, and the new guidance says the temple can have 25% of the building capacity.

“We’ll decide what are the requirements for the community and will work on it first then would start,” he said.

Acharya told indica that being a religious leader, it’s his duty to do the rituals, which he has been sharing with the temple followers via Facebook.

“It’s a pandemic, and it’s natural; and it’s my duty to do prayer for all of them and offer assurance to people to have patience, “ he said. “And whatever government agencies are making the rules, but we would wait for the right time.”

Not only Durga temple but all temples and Gurdwara are hosting online prayer since the pandemic has hit the US soil.

Dr. Sonia Angell, state public health officer and girector of the California Department of Public Health, said through a press note, “Together, our actions have helped bend the curve and reduce infections in our state.”

“As sectors continue to open with changes that aim to lower risk, remember that COVID-19 is still present in our communities,” she said “As more of us may be leaving our homes, keeping physical distance, wearing face coverings in public, and washing your hands frequently are more important than ever to help protect yourself and those around you.”

The state order came Monday after President Trump announced Friday that he would deem houses of worship as “essential” and said governors must reopen them this weekend.

“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of worship to open right now,” Trump said in remarks to the news media at the White House. “In America, we need more prayer, not less.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany revised Trump’s comments, saying that he will “strongly encourage” governors to comply.

The new guidance for religious services and cultural ceremonies encourages organizations to continue online services and activities, including to protect individuals who are most at risk for more severe COVID-19, including older adults and people with specific medical conditions

To reopen for religious services and funerals, places of worship must:

  • Establish and implement a COVID-19 prevention plan for every location, train staff on the plan, and regularly evaluate workplaces for compliance.
  • Train employees and volunteers on COVID-19, including how to prevent it from spreading and which underlying health conditions may make individuals more susceptible to contracting the virus.
  • Implement cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
  • Set physical distancing guidelines.
  • Recommend that staff and guests wear cloth face coverings, and screen staff for temperature and symptoms at the beginning of their shifts.
  • Set parameters around or consider eliminating singing and group recitations. These activities dramatically increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission. For this reason, congregants engaging in singing, particularly in the choir, and group recitation should wear face coverings at all times and when possible, these activities should be conducted outside with greater than 6-foot distancing.
  • The existing guidance for retailers, previously allowed approved counties to advance in the reopening process, now applies statewide. Retail operations can now open for in-store shopping statewide. The guidelines is designed to  help reduce the risk for workers and customers.

In 21 days, the Department of Public Health, in consultation with local departments of public health, will review and assess the impact of the religious services guidelines and provide further direction as part of a phased-in restoration of activities. This 21-day interval accounts for seven days for religious communities to prepare and reopen in addition to a 14-day incubation period of COVID-19.

 

[Photo courtesy:Facebook]