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Churches can gather in groups smaller than 25

Has anyone said at this point whether churches are in phase two or phase three regarding the governor’s reopening? I’ve looked at a couple of websites and I don’t see anything. I’m curious where that might be.

— Dan

The impact on local churches will depend largely on the size of their congregations and the choices leaders and congregations make about safety.

Although many churches have chosen to close physically and offer services via the Internet, they haven’t been required to close by Gov. Kate Brown.

Churches can have gatherings of fewer than 25 people as long as people from different households stay at least six feet apart.

However, Brown has also urged Oregonians to stay home as much as possible.

The Oregon Health Authority developed guidance for faith groups that says high-risk populations — including senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions — should avoid gatherings of any size outside their homes for their own safety.

OHA recommended that gatherings of any size be canceled and that churches consider virtual or recorded services.

During phase one of the state’s reopening plan that could start as early as Friday, gatherings of up to 25 people will be allowed as long as they don’t involve travel.

The governor still wants vulnerable populations to stay home during phase one. Everyone is being asked to wear a mask in public and continue physical distancing.

“We recognize that physical distancing requirements present challenges for Oregon’s faith-based organizations. ... But faith leaders can tend to the spiritual needs of their congregations without putting the health and safety of their entire communities at risk,” said Charles Boyle, deputy communications director for the governor’s office.

After 21 days in phase one, counties that continue to meet safety criteria can enter phase two, which will further expand gathering sizes. The state will provide more details about the size of groups as it monitors the effects of phase one.

The governor doesn’t want to allow large gatherings such as concerts, festivals and sports with live audiences until there is a COVID-19 vaccine or reliable treatment. She’s urged organizers of large events to cancel or significantly modify events through at least the end of September.

The governor’s office said further guidance on large gatherings will come out this summer.

The governor is trying to balance sometimes competing goals during phase one reopening.

Brown wants to support small local gatherings that preserve community cohesion and cultural practices, and allow people to safely return to work.

At the same time, she wants to minimize hospitalizations and deaths, minimize risk to frontline workers, avoid overwhelming the health care system and protect those at highest risk of developing severe illness from the virus, according to the governor’s office.

Meanwhile, 10 churches in Oregon have sued the governor. They say limiting gatherings to 25 people with physical distancing infringes on their religious liberty, especially for congregations with hundreds of members. There has been no court ruling on the case.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.