Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo amended her “stay-at-home, work safe” order Friday to allow churches and other houses of worship in the Houston area to hold in-person services, putting the city and county in line with the state’s stance on the issue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Per Hidalgo’s amended order, which is consistent with the executive order issued earlier this week by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, “religious services may be conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship” if they cannot be conducted remotely. Per the guidelines issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, which Hidalgo referenced in her amended order, churches also can provide communion or blessings in a drive-up or drive-through setting. Smaller congregations can hold multiple services of 10 people or fewer.
In all instances, places of worship must adhere to social distancing guidelines requiring non-family members to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between each other.
“Such services should be conducted consistent with the guidelines from the President (Donald Trump) and the CDC by practicing good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, sanitation, and implementing social distancing,” Hidalgo wrote.
The attorney general’s complete guidelines for houses of worship can be found here.
Per Hidalgo’s order, which is in effect through April, faith leaders may continue to minister and counsel parishioners in individual settings so long as social distancing protocols are followed.
Beyond church settings, the order requires all residents of Houston and Harris County to stay home except for essential reasons such as to exercise or obtain groceries, household items and medical care. Only businesses deemed essential, such as those that provide food, transportation services and professional services, can operate during the order.
While lessening her previous restrictions on churches, Hidalgo encouraged places of worship to hold remote services whenever possible to help the region slow the spread of COVID-19, the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus strain. As of Friday, the disease had infected at least 1,000 residents of Houston and Harris County while causing 13 deaths, according to local officials.
“Faith leaders who provide religious and worship services by video and teleconference enable Harris County to greatly limit the spread of COVID-19 and the exponential growth of cases,” Hidalgo wrote.