“No matter what a Superior Court judge says and given what’s happening now, it is simply too risky to gather indoors with other people who do not live with you,” the L.A. County Department of Public Health said Dec. 24 in a statement.
Approximately 14,000 Los Angeles County residents are testing positive for the coronavirus each day, the Public Health Department said. In addition, overwhelmed hospitals are currently admitting 1,000 COVID-19 positive patients daily and there is almost no available capacity at the Intensive Care Units across the County.
“As we enter this holiday season after a most difficult year, people are longing for a return to normalcy,” the department said.
“This need is most keenly seen in the want of people to attend church or religious services in-person indoors as they have always done. Public Health recognizes this sincere desire.
“Now, most unfortunately, is not the time to attend indoor religious services. The County of Los Angeles is in the midst of its highest surge of COVID-19 cases. The local emergency rooms and hospitals are over-capacity. And there are no indications of an end in sight to the current surge.”
The statement added, “Attending an indoor service will result in transmission of COVID-19 and additional hospitalizations that the healthcare system cannot handle at this time.”
Officials urged people to continue to more safely worship amid the pandemic by attending services remotely via a streaming service or at outdoor services only.
The statement from the L.A. County Department of Public Health comes shortly after Los Angeles County said it was dropping its tough restrictions on attendance at houses of worship after a series of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings struck down pandemic-related church attendance limits across the country.
The county has struggled to contain COVID-19 cases for months and has imposed some of the strictest health restrictions in the state, including prohibiting indoor church services.
But the county health department lifted the ban earlier this month in response to the Supreme Court ordering lower courts in the state to reconsider restrictions on church services. Lawyers for Harvest Rock Church, which beat the state of California at the Supreme Court earlier this month, hailed the decision.
As a result, officials loosened their own guidelines for religious services (pdf) to align with the Supreme Court ruling.
The updated guidelines allow for socially distanced services both indoors and outdoors with mandatory physical distancing and face coverings over both the nose and mouth that must be worn at all times while on-site.
Places of worship must also assure that attendance does not exceed the number of people that can be accommodated while maintaining a physical distance of six feet between separate households.
However, the guidelines note that indoor gatherings and activities with others not in your household “present significant risk to your health and the health of others due to COVID-19 transmission” and recommend that persons only attend faith-based services outdoors or remotely.
As of Dec. 24, Los Angeles has had a total of 677,299 CCP virus cases and 9,299 deaths, with 6,499 people currently hospitalized with the virus.