Places of worship & associated ceremonies

Updated June 9, 2021.

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As more and more Coloradans are vaccinated, we can begin returning to in-person services and ceremonies. We recommend that services and ceremonies be hosted outside. The safest option to protect the most people and prevent the spread of the virus remains offering services online. 

We strongly recommend that those who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 (e.g. unvaccinated and 65 years and older, living with chronic lung disease, serious heart conditions, immunocompromised, severe obesity, diabetes, liver disease, chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis, etc.) continue using online options.

Because spiritual needs cannot always be met through online programming, some spiritual leaders may decide to manage the risk and re-open their in-person services. These guidelines and recommendations will help protect the health of those who choose to attend religious and spiritual gatherings in person during this time. These guidelines and recommendations apply to places of worship and settings where life-rites occur, such as funeral homes or venues for wedding ceremonies. Social receptions or parties associated with those events still must follow indoor and/or outdoor event guidance.

IF THERE IS A CONFIRMED CASE OF COVID-19 IN THE COMMUNITY

On this page: Strongly recommended guidelines | Physical/social distancing | MasksPresenting speakers/singers/choirs | Cleaning practices | Pre-registration | Employees and volunteersDirecting movement of people (entry/exit doors)Create a “touchless” experienceChildren’s and youth programming | Outdoor services | SecurityMuslim ablutionReligious studies, small groups, and meetingsFood pantries and other services | Other sacred ceremonies | Additional comment

 

Strongly recommended guidelines

It is strongly recommended that places of worship in counties with high rates of COVID-19 transmission substitute in-person service with online programming and prioritize outdoor activities over indoor. 

Physical/social distancing
  • Parties should stay at least 6 feet apart from each other. A “party” includes members of a household who live together.

  • Seating in places of worship should be arranged in such a way as to maintain at least 6 feet of distance in every direction between individuals or parties.

  • Faith communities are encouraged to add additional services to accommodate the need for physical distancing, as well as consider shortening the duration of services to minimize exposure time. 

  • Places of worship should have a plan for distancing requirements in restrooms (either allow one person at a time or close off multiple stalls in between the stalls that can be used).

  • Multiple large rooms in a facility can be used as long as each space can follow ALL the guidelines and each room has 4 walls and a door. Service times may have to be staggered to accomplish this. Leaders must attend to distancing requirements, available restrooms, separate entrance/exit doors, and timely cleaning practices.

Masks
  • A statewide mask Executive Order went into effect on July 16, 2020, and Governor Polis has extended it repeatedly since then. The Governor’s Office released the most recent amendment to the Executive Order on May 14.

  • The Executive Order strongly recommends that unvaccinated people wear masks while indoors. 

  • Places of worship may institute their own mask requirements.

  • We recommend that places of worship have extra masks on hand for visitors who do not have their own. Any item provided to be worn must be disposable or fully sanitized before and after each use.

  • View questions and answers about the statewide mandatory mask order.

  • Follow the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s guidance for wearing masks

Presenting speakers/singers/choirs

The below information does not replace the recommendation for presenting speakers or singers, or performers, to wear a mask if unvaccinated. They should be followed in addition to proper mask-wearing.

  • Performances with vocal speech or singing, or activities that cause heavy breathing must be 12 feet from the audience if the performer is wearing a mask (25 if unmasked).* Performances with no forced exhalation as in the prior examples, like a piano, harp, or organ player, must be a minimum of 6 feet from the audience, but 12 feet is preferred.

  • Participants (e.g., speakers, presenters, singers, choirs, etc.) in services should have their symptoms checked, and participants who have been in close contact with an exposed or symptomatic person (within 6 feet for at least 10 minutes) should not participate and should self-quarantine.

  • Adopt seating and spacing modifications to increase physical distance from speakers, singers, and performers. 

  • Where necessary, install barriers to minimize travel of aerosolized particles from speakers, singers, and performers, or implement alternative placement of these individuals.

  • Maximize physical spacing between individuals on-stage.

  • Speakers, singers, and performers should use a separate entrance/exit than audience members where possible.

*Research and the CDC suggest that activities like singing may project respiratory droplets in greater quantity and over greater distance, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, particularly with prolonged exposure.

Cleaning practices
Pre-registration
  • Use a pre-registration system, social media platform, or private messaging to distribute the number of worshippers across the services being offered (in accordance with the physical distancing guidelines).

  • Develop a protocol for symptom screening: self-reporting, health surveys, or on-site checks. Anyone with any symptoms must not attend.

  • Consider allowing for 10% capacity at each service for “walk-ups” who do not have access to the technology to sign up or do not know how to use it.

  • Consider who will manage additional participants at the door. 

  • Maintain neat and detailed records and visitor logs to enable contact tracing (if needed). Consider encouraging visitors to enable the Exposure Notifications app on their smartphones.

Employees and volunteers
Directing movement of people (entry/exit doors)
  • Employees or volunteers (ushers, etc.) should provide physical distance directions for where to walk and which areas are available for seating/standing as the service begins and ends. 

  • Display clear signage in languages worshipers understand. 

  • Attendees should enter and exit the facility as directed: one person/household party at a time according to physical distancing recommendations.

  • Mark the floor of the worship space (aisles), the lobby, and the area outside the entrance and exit with physical distancing markers to cue people where to stand/wait. 

  • Avoid any close congregating or crowding before, during, or after the service. 

  • Use separate doors for entry and exit. If only one door is available, ensure times of services are spread out enough that the exit of one service can be completed before entry for the next service is allowed. 

  • Enable people to stay 6 feet apart while waiting to enter the building. This can include using ground markings, or other tactics like encouraging people to remain in their cars.

  • Throughout the service, unvaccinated people should maintain at least 6 feet of distance from everyone outside their household/party. 

Create a “touchless” experience

Where possible, places of worship are encouraged to create a plan which allows for worshippers to avoid all contact with surfaces. 

  • Doors: Doors entering the building and inside the building should either remain propped open or be opened/closed by employees/volunteers throughout the entire process. Consider leaving outside doors open during services if weather permits to improve airflow inside the building.

  • Hand sanitizer: Locate touchless hand-sanitizer units at the front door and throughout the facility.

  • Greeters: Greeters and attendees should greet each other while maintaining at least 6 feet of distance. Refrain from shaking hands or other personal contact.

  • Designated standing room: Where possible, some spaces can be designated for those who desire to stand during the service with proper physical distancing (so as not to touch the chairs). 

  • Communion: Direct interaction between faith leaders and congregants should be touch-free. Individually packaged communion is the safest option. When communion is not individually wrapped, the container for the host/bread should remain covered and uncontaminated during blessings and prayers. Distribution should be touch-free. Common cups are very high risk and should not be used.

  • Offering: Offering boxes or baskets should be attached to the wall or set at an entrance or exit of the worship space in a way that attendees do not have to touch it when they give. Do not pass baskets or plates among attendees.

  • Hymnals/religious books: These items should be removed and photocopies should be made available that can be discarded after one individual use, if permissible in that faith tradition. Consider projecting materials on a wall/screen for congregations to read together. Best practice is for worshippers to bring their own religious books and/or use technology to project lyrics, scriptures, liturgies, etc., so no physical copies are necessary, or provide links that can be used to get to the materials on a cell phone.

  • Contact with religious objects: Minimize communal contact with objects of religious or spiritual significance. If possible, consider wearing gloves or other protection while handling.

Children’s and youth programming
  • Children and youth may attend religious services with parent(s)/caregiver(s) who feel confident they can ensure at least 6 feet of distance between children and adults from different households.

  • Particular services should be catered to families and publicized accordingly in order to mitigate the risk of cross-generational transmission. 

  • Places of worship that would like to provide programming for children and youth must demonstrate an ability to adhere to all guidelines for child care centers published by CDPHE. Children’s and youth programming, separate from the religious services, may occur but with a strong recommendation for meeting outdoors, providing at least 6 feet of distance between parties from all sides, and the use of masks.

 

Other areas of recommendation/consideration

Outdoor services
  • These services are allowed if all applicable guidelines listed in this document can be followed. Special consideration must be given to directing people from the parking lots to the outdoor setting while physically distancing, as well as indicating where people can sit/stand. 

  • Guests should bring their own lawn chair/blanket to minimize the shared use of chairs and other items (umbrellas, etc.). 

  • At least 6 feet of distance between parties is still required.

Security
  • Unfortunately, hate groups have used the fear of the pandemic to promote discrimination –- particularly against Asian, Jewish, and Muslim communities. Places of worship should be mindful of this. 

Muslim ablution
  • Where possible it is recommended that ablution occur privately at the attendees’ place of residence before arriving at the mosque. If that is not possible, staff or volunteers should clean faucet handles and other items between each use.

Religious studies, small groups, and meetings
  • Religious studies, book studies, and other small groups are strongly encouraged to continue to meet virtually. In-person study groups may be held without distancing or masking if all participants have been fully vaccinated.

  • Staff may hold meetings in the religious facility without masks or distancing if all staff members have been fully vaccinated. If staff have not been vaccinated, consider limited meetings with appropriate physical distancing and masks, preferably outdoors. 

Food pantries and other services
  • These activities may occur at the religious facility assuming all the relevant guidelines listed in this document can be followed and additional CDPHE guidelines for specific service facilities are followed. 

Other sacred ceremonies

Other ceremonies should follow the above guidelines. 

 

Additional Comment

  • Places of worship should immediately refer to the health department’s guidance if there is deemed to be an outbreak in their community.

  • Consider these recommendations as ways to protect your community and the general public. Be sure to check with your insurance company about liability around COVID-19 exposure in your facility.