In Governor Asa Hutchinson’s COVID-19 update on Tuesday, November 10, he drew attention to the recent spike in COVID cases stating, “the numbers aren’t good. The trend is not good…We are in for a very challenging time.” On Tuesday, the daily number of positive confirmed cases was 1,424. On Wednesday, November 11, Arkansas hit a daily record of 1,962 positive cases with recent record high days of hospitalizations.
Additionally, during the press conference, Governor Hutchinson announced expanded Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) guidance for places of worship. This expanded guidance has several new aspects that the ADH recommends churches consider implementing for their congregation.
Among the expanded guidance is a guideline asking all congregants to wear masks at all times unless they are exempt under other ADH guidelines. These exemptions include speakers while addressing the congregation and singers while performing, maintaining proper social distancing. Additionally, social distancing parameters were expanded to include both indoor and outdoor areas. Lastly, the ADH placed emphasis on a greater possibility for transmission of the virus when unmasked congregational singing occurs. You can find the full guideline document and other exemptions here.
While the guidance is new in several of its recommendations for places of worship, it does remain the same in that it is guidance and not mandated. In a followup email, the ADH confirmed that, “While that is correct that this is a guidance and not a directive with legal requirements, these are the steps that will help to keep congregations safe.”
In Tuesday’s press conference, Governor Hutchinson affirmed that churches should use every safety precaution possible to ensure the safety of their congregation, but also affirmed the church’s choice in the matter citing the separation of church and state. Hutchinson said, “We respect the separation of church and state. They make their decisions on their own governance and how they handle things, but we do provide the guidelines that we ask them to take into consideration from a public health standpoint, and they’ve done a remarkable job in respecting those guidelines.”
Dr. J.D. “Sonny” Tucker, Executive Director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, was invited to speak during the press conference to encourage churches in these challenging times to not lose sight of what’s at stake. He stated, “Our churches and faith organizations began this 1,000 mile pandemic journey with preparation, intensity and focus. Months and months into this journey, we have surpassed the 1,000 mile mark and we are weary, fatigued and tired.” As he continued, he emphasized that a love for God and a love for people should drive our philosophy for engaging during the pandemic. As he concluded, he left with this statement, “Let’s move ahead during this holiday season by all means, [but] safely and with great caution.”
If you would like to hear Dr. J.D. “Sonny” Tucker’s full remarks, you can find those here.
Additionally, Secretary of Health Jose Romero provided further recommendations during the press conference on holiday gatherings for families suggesting that they keep them small, follow safety guidelines or consider not gathering. Secretary Romero also issued recommendations on people in assisted living environments stating, “I strongly discourage people living in assisted living or congregate settings from being taken away from those congregate settings to have Thanksgiving or holidays with their families.”
If you would like to find updated guidance or connect with the Faith Outreach Team of the ADH, you can visit this webpage. The Faith Outreach Team works to, “inform, educate and empower communities of faith to take an active role in their health.”