Faith-based Organizations

For many faith traditions, gathering together for worship is at the heart of what it means to be a community of faith. However, gatherings present a risk for increasing spread of COVID-19.  More information about stopping the spread of COVID-19 can be found here.  Information specific to child care, K-12 schools, and homeless shelters may also be helpful for some faith-based organizations.

When deciding whether to attend worship services, consider factors that impact the risk of COVID-19 transmission, including: 

  • Level of COVID-19 spread in the community: Higher levels of COVID-19 in the community where the gathering will be held or where the attendees are coming from mean that there is a higher risk that someone could be infected with COVID-19.  VDH has developed a dashboard to help make decisions based on data.
  • The number of people at the gathering: If there are many people in a space, it may be harder to stay at least 6 feet from others. The risk of COVID-19 spread also increases if there are more people at the event or if they come from many different places.
  • Location: Outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor gatherings, especially when combined with other strategies such as wearing masks and increasing distance between people. Gatherings in large, well-ventilated spaces are safer than gatherings in smaller spaces that are not well-ventilated. 
  • Duration: Spending less time with people outside your household is safer than spending longer time.  This may be especially true in indoor environments where people are shouting or singing.
  • Behavior of people attending the gathering: If other guests have not been following social distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene, and mask recommendations before the event, then there is a greater risk of one of them having COVID-19. If guests at the event are not practicing safe behaviors at the event, then COVID-19 could spread at that event. Certain activities, including chanting and singing, are known to increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.
  • Your own ability to wear a mask and risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19 may be important considerations as well. Those at risk for more severe illness should consider alternatives to in-person worship.

Relative Risk Levels for Attending Religious Gatherings:

Lowest risk: Services are only provided in a virtual or online format. 

More risk: Small in-person services are permitted. Outdoor services are prioritized. Individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects. No food is served. All persons are encouraged to wear masks (if able). Rigorous cleaning and disinfecting practices are implemented. 

Even more risk: Indoor activities are held. Medium-sized in-person gatherings are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart. All persons are encouraged to wear masks.  Sharing items and group meals are discouraged. 

Highest risk: Standard services are resumed. Large in-person gatherings are held indoors where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart. Food is served “potluck” or family style.  Singing, chanting, or other activities that increase respiration is included in the service.  Attendees may not all be wearing masks.

Additional Considerations:

  • Singing and playing wind instruments are considered to be high risk activities due to the increased amount of respiratory droplets and aerosols that may contain the COVID-19 virus if a person is infected.  For this reason, singing is not recommended as part of religious services at this time.  Increasing distance between individuals, wearing masks, and increasing ventilation in an area (or singing outside) can help reduce this risk.  VDH's Guidance for Performing Arts has more recommendations for singing and playing instruments.
  • Some religious rituals require the use of shared objects.  This may increase the risk of spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 between people, so using individually-wrapped or single-use items are ways to decrease that risk.
  • Coffee service or shared meals, like ‘potluck style’ dinners, can increase the risk of spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Bringing your own coffee or food or ordering individually-plated meals can help to reduce risk.
  • Safer ways to conduct weekly services include drive-in or outdoor services.  Holding multiple small services may allow for greater distancing between each service.  
  • Consider suspending social events or additional programming and services until a safer time.  More recommendations about hosting social events can be found here.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides Guidance for Faith-based Organizations here.