It is important to note that the Washington State Department of Health, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization all recommend that, in addition to their recommendations to maintain six feet of physical distance from non-household members and wash hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, people wear facial masks when they are in public settings where they cannot reliably maintain six feet of distance from others at all times.
In Washington State, both the Governor and the Secretary of the Department of Health have ordered that every person in Washington State must wear a face covering that covers their nose and mouth when they are outside of their house, mobile home, apartment, condominium, hotel or motel room, or other dwelling unit, subject to certain exceptions. There are two exceptions to the order: (1) children younger than five years old; and (2) persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, developmental or cognitive condition, or disability that prevents wearing a face covering.
Therefore, churches are under order from the State that persons attending church must wear a facial mask unless they meet one of the two exceptions. Moreover, it is clear that wearing a facial mask protects the wearer and others in the wearer’s presence against infection from the coronavirus. For these reasons, a church that is re-opening for services in person must determine how to enforce the requirement so that all those in attendance are protected from infection to the extent possible.
The following practices are recommended:
- Those persons with a medical or other condition that prevents wearing a mask should be required to bring a note from their doctor stating that the person has a condition that prevents wearing a mask. In addition, the church should create a place in the space for such persons that has the appropriate distancing from others and which is then announced to the congregation as the place for those with conditions that prevent wearing a mask to be seated.
- Other persons who refuse to wear a mask should be prevented from entering or asked to leave so as not to endanger others.
- If such persons refuse to leave, then the service should be terminated and all present should leave.
Depending on the amount of space in the nave, it is acceptable to terminate a service if anyone refuses to wear a mask, whatever the reason, in order to protect the safety of all those attending.
Whatever protocols are put in place regarding the wearing of masks, it is important that such protocols are put into a spiritual context. These actions are taken for the safety of the entire community.