Walz: Houses of worship can open at 25% occupancy, includes weddings and funerals

Published 3:06 pm Saturday, May 23, 2020

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced expanded guidelines for religious services during a Saturday press briefing, allowing houses of worship to reopen at 25 percent occupancy while continuing to implore Minnesotans to practice public health recommendations.

Tim Walz

Walz was joined by state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, who cautioned that the state has not yet each peak for infection from COVID-19.

“In the next couple of weeks … we are going to see some pretty rough weeks when we head to that peak,’’ Walz said during the nearly hour-long briefing.

He said that after consulting with Minnesota faith leaders, the state department of health expanded earlier guidelines. Starting May 27, places of worship:

  • Can open at 25 percent occupancy if they adhere to social distancing and other public health guidelines.
  • The maximum event gathering size is 250 people both inside and outside services and applies to both weddings and funerals. It does not include “related celebrations or social gatherings,’’ according to the guidelines.

Saturday’s news conference comes as the state saw its greatest single-day increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The Saturday announcement came a day after questions around religious services got more complicated Friday afternoon, when President Trump declared houses of worship essential institutions.

While Walz has loosened restrictions on many businesses, earlier this week he would not put dates to when some vital parts of daily life in Minnesota could resume, including indoor religious gatherings of more than 10.

The state’s Catholic leaders, as well as Lutheran leaders from the Wisconsin and Missouri synods, said they would defy Walz’s order and resume services next week, believing they could do so safely.

Later Friday, a Walz spokesperson said the governor had talked with local faith leaders and that they would study the new guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “to better understand what this means for places of worship in Minnesota.”

Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Thursday that the concern at worship services — including where she worships — is for medically vulnerable people who might be infected. Those at-risk people would naturally want to attend services but “what may seem to be OK for a certain segment of the population could have devastating consequences for others.”

Check back for updates.