Soldotna United Methodist Church in Soldotna, Alaska, invites worshippers online with a sign seen Tuesday, April 7, 2020. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna United Methodist Church in Soldotna, Alaska, invites worshippers online with a sign seen Tuesday, April 7, 2020. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

State: Drive-in, virtual religious services OK

New health alert offers guidelines to local organizations on safe ways to practice their faith.

The state issued a health alert Tuesday clarifying how churches can provide services during the mandated hunker down order, and offering guidelines to local organizations on safe ways to practice their faith.

The alert, issued Tuesday, is from the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, and Department and Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum.

March 27, Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed a health mandate prohibiting private and public gatherings, regardless of the number of people involved. The mandate prohibits gatherings for weddings, faith, graduation ceremonies and funeral events.

Tuesday, the alert clarified religious restrictions to allow places of worship to continue services virtually or through a drive-in method.

The alert says livestreaming of religious services taking place at the church, synagogue, mosque, temple and other religious facilities is allowed if 10 or fewer personnel are involved in the production of the virtual service and the group is practicing social distancing. The state is asking people to remain at least 10 feet apart — instead of 6 feet — if they are singing or projecting their voice. Those who are not speaking are asked to wear cloth face coverings.

The state is also allowing faith organizations to operate drive-in services, in which participants would gather in vehicles near the religious facility and participate in the service together by remote means. Participants must remain in their cars the entire time, the alert said, and only household members are allowed in each car. Those vehicles must be parked 6 feet apart. The mandate requires that the organization ensure social distancing by setting up clearly marked parking stalls or by having a parking lot staff wearing reflective clothing and face coverings direct cars. Participants are not allowed to interact physically with clergy, staff or participants in other vehicles, which means donations cannot be collected by a communal basket or plate.

With Easter Sunday fast approaching, the state is allowing faith-based groups to assembly and distribute Easter baskets. However, the state says anyone assisting with basket assembly or distribution must be screened and will not be allowed to participate if they have a fever, cough, shortness of breath or other symptoms of respiratory infection, or have a history with out-of-state travel within the past 14 days, or have a history of close contact to a person with COVID-19.

When assembling baskets, the state is asking volunteers to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds prior to and after handling baskets and basket contents.

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