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New York to allow small religious gatherings, with restrictions

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News (file photo)
Holy Cross Church in DeWitt

New York will allow religious gatherings of up to 10 people starting Thursday, but that size restriction makes it unlikely many services will get underway.

Pastor Darren Jaime of the People's A.M.E Zion Church in Syracuse isn't aware of any parishes that would fit the size requirement. It's nothing a church his size could do.

"Maybe you do ten only for three services. I don't know what the answer would be for those who have that threshold," Jaime said. "Certainly it's a start, but before we can embrace that, it's going to have to open up bigger than that."

Rt. Rev. DeDe Duncan-Probe, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, said churches also have to take into account other things before inviting worshipers into a gathering place.

"The wearing of masks, the cleaning regimen that would have to happen before or after, the airing out of the space, the need to manage things like doorways or bathrooms or places of contact," said Duncan-Probe.

Credit Episcopal Diocese of Central New York
Rt. Rev. Dr. DeDe Duncan-Probe, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said this announcement doesn't do anything but clarify that religious services are among areas where ten or fewer people can gather. He's supporting a plan from the Central New York Control Room, which monitors the area's reopening, that would allow religious groups to hold services using a fraction of the capacity of a church, temple or mosque.

"With religious gatherings, 25% of the building capacity, everyone at minimum six-feet apart, it makes sense to us," McMahon said.

McMahon said he's urging the state to consider this option for phase two of the restart. Duncan-Probe already has a phased-in plan for getting Episcopal parishes worshiping together again, and doesn't expect it to happen soon

"I'm cautious about that because of the danger to people, and we just don't know about this disease," she said.

Duncan-Probe and Pastor Jaime also admit their particular flocks may be slower getting together anyway, because there are many older individuals with pre-existing conditions who may not want to gather in a big group.

"Some people will be slow to attend in coming back. So it's going to be a long time I think before things get back to normal," Jaime said. "You'll see some things progress, but as far as normal, I view for being an extended and indefinite period."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.