As virus ebbs, NY loosens restrictions on houses of worship

“We’re going to open the valve more" - SEE Diocese of Buffalo guidance

WBEN Newsroom
June 06, 2020 - 2:18 pm
Governor Andrew Cuomo

ALBANY, N.Y. (WBEN/AP) — New York's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is moving faster than expected, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday, allowing the state to loosen some restrictions on gatherings in houses of worship.

Churches, temples, mosques and other religious buildings will be allowed to operate with 25% of their usual capacity once the region they are in reaches phase two of the state's reopening plan.

“We’re going to open the valve more then we originally anticipated because the metrics are so good," Cuomo said.

All of the state, except for New York City, is now in the second phase of loosening restrictions put in place in March, meaning larger religious gatherings can begin in most places immediately. New York City starts the first phase Monday.

COVID-19 killed 35 people in the state Friday, Cuomo said, down from a peak of more than 700 per day in April.

“This is really really good news. Compared to where we were, this is a big sigh of relief," Cuomo said, though he noted that caution is still needed.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and lead to death.

Cuomo urged people to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing, something that has been collapsing in many parts of the state as people have watched tightly-packed crowds of thousands of people protesting racial injustice.

“People still have to stay smart. With this virus you learn something new every week, and sometimes what you learn is different from what they told you in the first place,” Cuomo said.

In light of Governor Cuomo’s announcement today that houses of worship may resume public gatherings at 25 percent capacity at the earliest opportunity, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger has announced that any parish in the Diocese of Buffalo that is prepared to offer public liturgies while maintaining the safety protocols detailed in the Diocesan guidelines due to the ongoing COVID-19 threat may do so.

 Local Catholics are urged to check with their parishes before planning to attend a Mass, as parishes may be at a different stage in their preparations for reopening.  The decision to reopen is solely at the discretion of the pastor.  In addition, because many priests serving in parishes throughout the Diocese are themselves vulnerable, those priests may choose to (and are encouraged to) opt out of presiding if they have concerns about their personal health and safety. In those cases, a local parish may join with another local parish for public liturgies.

 The dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains in place.  All who are especially vulnerable or simply uncomfortable attending a public liturgy are encouraged to remain at home and view Mass via livestreams, which will continue in local parishes. (For livestream information, visit LIVE STREAM MASSES

 “On this weekend, as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity and look forward to next weekend’s celebration of Corpus Christi, we are ever more aware of and grateful for the great gift of the Eucharist,” said Bishop Scharfenberger who has kept churches open throughout the pandemic so local Catholics could pray privately.  “The Catholic faithful of our Diocese have made clear their eagerness to return to their parish churches and to resume their sacramental, life with their parish leaders and in communion with their fellow parishioners. While we welcome this latest development, it is imperative that our parish leaders and all who are returning to public Masses observe the guidelines that public health officials have issued, along with the extensive measures that we have defined for our parishes in order to protect the health and safety of parishioners, as well as priests and liturgical ministers.” 

 Parishes throughout the Diocese have been working on plans to ensure they can meet safety standards that will keep the six-foot social distancing requirement in place throughout Mass.



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