Yesterday, Governor Tony Evers reiterated options for religious gatherings and services that allow religious organizations and places of worship to continue offering faith-based services and gatherings while still complying with the governor’s “safer at home” order.
Under the governor’s order, churches and religious entities are considered essential. Any gathering must include fewer than 10 people at a time if it occurs in a room or confined space.
“I’ve learned about some churches that are trying to find ways to bypass the Governor’s orders, which is putting everyone at risk,” said one local epidemiologist who wished to remain anonymous (“Jane Doe”). “I understand that worship is very important to people, but at this time, it’s so important to use the alternative options available to help keep our community safe.”
“Everyone is at risk of getting COVID-19, and people with underlying conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and asthma are more likely to have severe symptoms that could lead to hospitalizations or death,” she added.
Churches and religious entities wishing to conduct services while still complying with the governor’s order may, for example, conduct services via:
- Parking lots with congregants staying in cars, avoiding person-to-person contact;
Streaming online; and
- Having small gatherings (fewer than 10 people in each room) with multiple services.
- Churches and religious entities are encouraged to review and comply with all DHS guidelines, including guidelines for community and faith based organizations available here.
Many local churches have adapted by offering live streams of their services (LINK).
“My parents are devout Catholics who attend church nearly every day and they have found ways to worship while staying home. They did this to protect the priest and other vulnerable members of society,” said Doe. “When they found out that communion was still being administered, they were very concerned for people’s safety.”
The Governor’s Safer at Home order is enforceable by any local law enforcement official, including county sheriffs; however, the governor’s office has not asked law enforcement to supervise or take enforcement steps against religious gatherings.
Instead, the Governor has asked local law enforcement to assist local communities and congregations understand the governor’s Safer at Home order and help everyone take precautions to keep themselves, their neighbors, and their communities safe.
“We know this time of year is full of holidays for a number of faith communities,” added Doe. “I know it will be hard on many to spend it without the people we love, myself included. But we need to continue social distancing to keep each other safe so we can celebrate for many years to come.”
Gov. Evers and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm issued a Safer at Home order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on March 25. This order remains in effect until 8:00am on Friday, April 24, or until a superseding order is issued.
Wisconsinites are asked to stay at home as much as possible and all public and private gatherings of any number of people that are not part of a single household or living unit are prohibited, except for the limited exceptions contained in the order.