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Officials issue new guidance for church services as Holy Week begins

JACKSON — As churches throughout Mississippi prepare to host Holy Week and Easter services this week — events that were canceled in 2020 due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — the Mississippi State Department of Health, in a release Monday, issued new guidance on safer faith-based gatherings and worship services, while still suggesting virtual and outdoor services are the safest options.

The MSDH recommends everyone 16 and older be vaccinated against COVID-19, even if the individual has been previously infected with COVID-19.

For those meeting indoors, MSDH recommends the following guidelines:

  • Everyone 65 years of age or older should be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to attending in-person worship services (full vaccination is considered two weeks after the second dose of a two-dose vaccine, or two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine).
  • Anyone 16 or older with high-risk medical conditions should be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to attending in-person worship services (two weeks after completing vaccination).
  • Indoor safety guidance:
    • All congregants should wear a face mask at all times during in-person services.
    • All congregants should maintain six feet of separation from persons outside of their household. Household members may sit together.
    • Congregants should not gather in close groups while entering or exiting the building.
    • Congregants should use hand sanitizer prior to or upon entry of the building.
    • Singing is a high-risk activity that can quickly spread viral particles. It is preferable to not have choirs; however, if choirs are performing, they should be small in number, masked, and separated by six feet.
    • Those in classroom settings such as Sunday School or study groups should maintain six feet of separation and wear a mask at all times.
    • As appropriate, alternatives to shared cups for communion should be pursued.
    • The use of hymn books or prayer books is acceptable so long as congregants practice proper hand hygiene upon entering.
  • Additional procedures to protect congregants are encouraged based on local congregation leadership decisions.