Religious services will be allowed to resume with restrictions in New York state beginning on Thursday, after two months in which they were prohibited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in his daily news conference Wednesday that religious services may begin if limited to 10 or fewer participants with social distancing and masks in place, JTA reported.
Cuomo stressed that caution must be exercised to make sure the religious gatherings do not become an opportunity for the virus to spread further.
“The last thing we want to do is have a religious ceremony that winds up having more people infected,” Cuomo said. “We know from New Rochelle, Westchester, the first hot spot, that religious ceremonies can be very dangerous.”
Cuomo has several times in the past brought up New Rochelle, which was placed in quarantine in March after COVID-19 spread through it.
A lawyer from a synagogue in that New York City suburb was hospitalized with COVID-19 before being released several weeks later. Following that, some people who were friends or relatives of the lawyer tested positive for coronavirus. These included the rabbi of the synagogue.
The Center for Disease Control had issued guidelines last week for the reopening of restaurants, bars, child care centers, schools and mass transit. The guidelines did not include guidance for reopening places of worship.
Earlier this month, leaders of the Orthodox Union released guidance on reopening synagogues after a webinar with Dr. Anthony Fauci. The organization pointed to outdoor services as a possible first step in resuming prayer but urged caution in considering any resumption of services.
Dr. Fauci told American rabbis during that conference that synagogues in the US may be able to be open for the Jewish High Holy Days in the fall, but only if certain conditions are met in terms of testing, contact tracing and social distancing.
He noted, however, that synagogues would not be able to operate in the same way as prior to the pandemic.
Fauci said that it would be a "good idea" to hold Minyan prayer services once every five days, as opposed to every day, pointing out that he did assume to understand what this would mean “from a spiritual standpoint.”