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Judge Hidalgo amends Stay Home order to allow small religious gatherings that follow CDC guidelines

If religious services cannot be conducted from home or through remote services, then small gatherings are allowed if they follow CDC guidelines.

HOUSTON — County Judge Lina Hidalgo has amended the Stay Home, Work Safe Order to allow small gatherings for religious services.

Churches weren’t classified as essential businesses in the county’s original Stay Home Order, which runs through April 30.

The change is in response to Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order allowing religious gatherings as long as they abide by CDC guidelines. 

Abbott cited the First Amendment that protects the right to exercise religion and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  

Under Harris County's amended order:

  • Faith leaders who provide religious and worship services by video and teleconference enable Harris County to greatly limit the spread of COVID-19 and the exponential growth of cases. If religious services cannot be conducted from home or through remote services, then religious services may be conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship. 
  • Faith leaders may minister and counsel in individual settings, so long as social distancing protocols are followed.
  • Under CDC guidelines they must: limit the services to no more than 10 people; practice social distancing; practice good hygiene, environmental cleanliness and sanitation.

It's similar to Abbott's executive order on March 31 that allows “religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship,” as long as they follow the same CDC guidelines.

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The governor also advised houses of worship to conduct remote audio, video, or teleconference activities whenever possible.

Under his order, if a house of worship cannot conduct its activities remotely, then the following White House and CDC guidelines still apply in order to stop the spread of Coronavirus: 

  • Gatherings limited to 10 or fewer people;
  • They must practice social distancing by staying at least six feet apart;
  • Instruct sick employees, volunteers, and guests to stay home;
  • Practice social distancing by maintaining appropriate distance between people;
  • Maintain good hygiene by washing your hands frequently, using hand sanitizer, using your elbow to cover coughs, and not touching your face;
  • And clean and disinfect work areas frequently.

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The governor’s order also advised houses of worship to work with counties and municipalities and base decisions on the transmission rate of COVID-19, which varies dramatically.

According to the CDC, if a community is experiencing substantial community spread of COVID-19, then the houses of worship in that community should cancel all in-person gatherings of any size.

But if a community is experiencing moderate to substantial spread, then the CDC recommends a reduction of activities in coordination with local health officials, possible smaller gatherings incorporating social-distancing measures, cancelation of activities with 10 or more people when high-risk populations attend in person (including those over 65 and those with underlying medical conditions)