LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KARK) — As Arkansas sees a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, state leaders are implementing new tactics to try and curb the spread. This includes new guidelines aimed at places of worship, a move that drew mixed reaction when it was first announced Tuesday.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, Pulaski County saw between 250 and 300 COVID cases linked to places of worship between May and October. This data comes from contact tracing and those COVID positive who claimed they had attended a service at a place of worship within two weeks of their diagnosis. While religious centers are one of the contributing factors to a spike in cases, some say the new focus on places of worship isn’t necessarily fair.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Arkansans have had to adjust their lives in order to stay safe. These changes stretch to places of worship, where many gather in large numbers to celebrate their religion. Today, that looks a bit different.
“We are maintaining physical distancing, hand sanitizing, and we are also following the guidelines of the CDC requiring that everyone has masks.” Pastor Jewel R. Withers, Jr. serves at both the Williams Temple Church of God in Christ, and the Holy Temple Cathedral Church of God in Christ.
He’s taken steps to keep his worshipers safe, including handing out masks and live streaming services. He says he’ll do whatever is necessary to keep his community healthy, including following guidelines put out by the state.
“Whatever the guidelines are,” Withers said, “those are the things that we will be requiring.”
Tuesday, Governor Hutchinson updated Arkansas’ COVID guidelines for places of worship, including requiring musicians to wear a mask at all times and asking parishioners to stay 6 feet apart. His announcement drew mixed reaction.
State Senator Trent Garner says he’s noticed many places of worship had already been staying safe, even before the new limits.
“Most places of worship in my area,” Garner said, “have taken the COVID-19 pandemic seriously.” He’s concerned that too much focus right now is on religious centers, and not on other possible places of transmission.
“The reason of our cases exploding isn’t just because of churches,” said Garner. “It’s a multitude of reasons.”
Although the guidelines are not a mandate, some churches will be implementing the new rules in order to make sure those searching for comfort in this difficult time are able to do so safely.
“It’s so critically important that we maintain that connection during this season,” Withers said.
You can read the new guidelines below: