Long Beach to allow indoor religious services as cases continue to fall

Long Beach health officials announced the city will allow indoor religious services and cultural ceremonies at 25% capacity as cases of COVID-19 continue to fall.

The decision to allow religious services also stems from a Supreme Court decision in a case brought by Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church, which argued the ban on indoor services was a violation of freedom of the expression of religion.

In response to that decision, Los Angeles County reversed its ban on indoor services in late December, when cases, deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 were nearing their height.

The state since revised its guidelines for areas such as Long Beach and Los Angeles, which are in the “purple” tier, meaning the virus is considered widespread.

In response to those revised guidelines, Long Beach will allow churches, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship to host attendees for in-person services, as long as they do not exceed 25% capacity.

Long Beach will also continue to ban singing, chanting and other performances, as “there is a significant increase in COVID-19 transmission with these activities,” according to a city statement. Service of food and/or beverages, potlucks and family-style eating and drinking events remain prohibited, the city said.

Though houses of worship may now host weddings and funerals indoors, these ceremonies will still be banned at restaurants and hotels, which can only host events outdoors.

“People participating in the above-mentioned indoor activities should remain vigilant in practicing physical distancing to the maximum extent possible, wear a face covering whenever in a public place, and frequently wash hands and sanitize high-touch surfaces,” the city statement said.

Long Beach on Wednesday reported another 12 deaths due to the coronavirus, one of which was associated with a long-term care facility. In Long Beach, 739 people have died of the virus—the majority in the last two months.

The city’s cases continue to plummet, however, with 151 new cases reported Wednesday. The city is now just shy of 50,000 total cases since the pandemic began in March.

In its statement, the city said it is close to meeting the state threshold that would allow K-6 instruction to resume in-person, which is no more than 25 cases per 100,000 residents. The city on Wednesday reported that number is 35.4 cases per 100,000 residents.

The city, school district and teachers union, however, have yet to reach agreement on what the requirements will be for teachers to return.

The county, meanwhile, reported another 141 deaths due to the coronavirus Wednesday, lifting the overall death toll to 18,500.

Another 3,434 cases were also reported, raising the total number from throughout the pandemic to 1,155,309.

The county’s director of public health, Barbara Ferrer, said the decline cases is hopeful—but she tempered the optimism.

“Our optimism around this decrease is cautious,” she said. “The number is still more than three times the average daily case rates we were reporting in September. And also, we’re at a time of the year when people may be more tempted to gather. It’s our hope that all residents are choosing to not get together with people from outside their household or to travel to celebrate the Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day or Presidents Day.”

City News Service contributed to this report.

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