Many of us suspected that we would see a spike in COVID infections as the weather got colder and that Governor Bullock would respond. Today, he responded with new guidance for the state. However, there is better news for churches. Today’s directive includes this language: “This Directive does not alter existing requirements for houses of worship. Faith leaders are urged to continue to ensure that social distancing is possible and practiced for all inperson services, and to encourage the use of virtual services where possible.” Notice the use of the terms “urged” and “encourage.” This is not mandate language, but churches should do all they can to try to do these things if they want to try to comply with the government’s directive.
This should mean that churches that seek to follow government guidance can continue to hold indoor worship services, provided they meet the state mandate for six foot social distancing between family groups and wearing masks. If your local health department has stricter guidance, you are still expected to follow that guidance. For Yellowstone County, right now, that means churches can’t exceed 75% capacity and must observe social distancing and mask requirements. Family groups can still sit together. I have not found specific guidance for churches in Missoula County. I do not believe the Missoula County guidance for “places of assembly” applies to churches, because they can pretty much observe social distancing the whole time they are worshipping. So I don’t believe Missoula County churches are limited to 25% capacity for Sunday worship. It may apply to special events at churches, however, where there is more movement during the event.
As we hear more, we’ll post information here and at www.mtsbc.org.
You can read the full directive here. Guidance for houses of worship is on page 2, under section II. Public Gatherings and Events: https://covid19.mt.gov/…/2020-11-17_Directive%20on…