ST PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz has issued a new executive order allowing worship, weddings and funerals "to proceed as safely as possible during the COVID-19 Peacetime Emergency."
Following consultations with faith leaders and new guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control, the governor's new order will allow places of worship to reopen starting Wednesday, May 27 at 25% occupancy, with social distancing and other public health guidelines in place.
Executive Order 20-62 allows places of worship, funeral homes, and other facilities that offer gathering space for weddings, funerals and prayer to host gatherings of more than 10 people, with the following requirements:
- In all settings, ensure a minimum of 6 feet of physical distancing between households.
- In indoor settings, occupancy must not exceed 25 percent of the normal occupant capacity as determined by the fire marshal, with a maximum of 250 people in a single self-contained space.
- In outdoor settings, gatherings must not exceed 250 individuals.
“I have had many meaningful conversations with faith leaders over the last few weeks,” Gov. Walz said in a statement. “From a personal and public health perspective, the decision around places of worship has been a challenging one since the beginning of the pandemic. We know large gatherings of people raise the risk of spreading COVID-19. We also know worship is an essential part of many Minnesotans’ lives, including mine.”
Walz said his discussions with faith leaders will ensure there are clear public health guidelines to resume worship as safely as possible.
“Each step we take brings risk and responsibility for all,” Walz said. “My family will continue to practice our faith via video at home. I urge all Minnesotans to continue to limit their in-person interactions with people outside of their households, and I strongly urge Minnesotans at heightened risk to stay home. Those who disregard public health guidance endanger not only themselves, but their families and their neighbors.”
The governor clarified that the order does not extend to receptions, and orders against communal sharing of food will remain in place.
Watch the governor's full press conference below or by clicking here.
Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis released a statement in response to the governor's order.
"I am so thankful for the honest, open, and fast-paced dialogue we had over these past days and am pleased we could come to a consensus about a reasonable and safe path forward that allows a greater number of people to safely return to worship beginning May 27," he said.
Archbishop Hebda noted specific reopening decisions will be left up to individual parishes.
"The bishops of Minnesota have repeatedly told our pastors and parishes that they should only return to public Mass when they are able and willing to follow the many protocols that have been put in place – including sanitization and a few changes to the liturgy, particularly regarding the reception of Holy Communion," he said. "If a parish is not confident they are ready, they should not open. Period."
Archbishop Hebda also released a video message in response to the governor's order:
Earlier in the week, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, as well as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, announced plans to resume worship services, against the state's previous recommendations.
On Friday, President Donald Trump said places of worship should be deemed "essential," and urged governors across the country to allow them to reopen.
In a thread posted to Twitter, Republican Minnesota Senator Majority Leader Sen. Paul Gazelka thanked faith leaders for making their voices heard.
"I want to thank the faith leaders who stepped up to make sure religious groups were not treated differently than other businesses," Gazelka said. "Many of them have spent the last several months adapting their ministry in preparation for a reopening. They rightfully felt left behind as other businesses were given more room to reopen. As faiths share a value for human life, I know that each leader will take extra care to protect and serve their people. We have to be able to trust one another if we are ever going to be able to reopen. "
Later Saturday evening, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also weighed in on the governor's decision via a joint statement. “We’ve spoken with faith leaders from across our Twin Cities, and what we’ve heard loud and clear is a strong, unified commitment to protecting the health of their congregations and continuing to hold services remotely. Any large in-person gathering amid this pandemic puts people at risk. Regardless of your faith and beliefs, we all have a common obligation to our respective communities and congregations. Let’s put their health and safety first,”
While the new order allows gatherings of up to 250 people for faith gatherings, Gov. Walz also noted, for now, the state's guidance against graduation ceremonies will remain in place, noting a case in the past week involving a graduation event held against state recommendations which involved a participant later diagnosed with COVID-19.
Walz also said, similarly, Minnesota's upcoming limitations on bars and restaurants will continue, noting that CDC guidance on such venues has not changed. However, Walz acknowledged he understands the frustrations of bar and restaurant owners and said conversations are continuing.
"I don't want to give false hope, but I also don't want to close the door," Walz said.
KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit kare11.com/coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about the Midwest specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and see what companies in Minnesota are hiring. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215. And get the latest coronavirus updates sent right to your inbox every morning. Subscribe to the KARE 11 Sunrise newsletter here. Help local families in need: www.kare11.com/give11.
The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.