Religious Facilities

 

Updated 4/29/2021

“Religious Facilities” are defined in the Local Order as “churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other similar religious facilities of any faith in Montgomery County”.

Religious Facilities may open to the general public for indoor and outdoor services provided they comply with the General Operating Requirements, and the specific requirements on this page.

Multiple services are allowed in various locations within the building when religious ceremony space requirements and General Operating Requirements are followed. If multiple services are held at the same time, individuals and household groups should be assigned a specific service location, and not move between different locations.

On this page:

Capacity Limits

Indoor services

The total number of persons allowed in a religious facility may not exceed 50% of the facility's maximum occupancy. This number includes faith leaders, volunteers, and congregants.

Examples

  • The Religious Facility worship space is 4,000 square feet with a permitted occupancy of 360. A planned gathering has 90 persons.
    • 90 is less than 50% of the maximum occupancy of the worship space (360 x 50% = 180).  The allowed gathering size limit is 180.
  • The Religious Facility worship space is 6,000 square feet with a permitted occupancy of 400. A planned gathering has 250 persons.
    • 250 exceeds 50% of the maximum occupancy of the worship space (400 x 50% = 200). The allowed gathering size limit is 200.

Outdoor services

The number of outdoor service participants shall not exceed 100 participants, absent a Letter of Approval from the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Request a Letter of Approval.

Religious ceremonies

Religious ceremonies, including weddings and funerals, that take take place inside or outside of a religious facility follow the requirements for religious facilities.

Non-religious ceremonies

Non-religious ceremonies—including weddings and funerals, or any such ceremony that does not take place at a religious facility—must follow the requirements for any indoor or outdoor gathering.

Other gatherings

Any other gatherings such as committee meetings, 12-step meetings, community gatherings, or outdoor events, must follow the requirements for any indoor or outdoor gathering.

Additional Requirements & Recommendations for Houses of Worship

All four of these spacing guidelines must met:

  1. Seating must be marked to reflect 6 feet of social distance between individuals that are not a part of the same household;
  2. If there are fixed seats or pews, every other row must remain empty and marked off.
  3. Individuals that are not a part of the same household must maintain 6 feet of social distance from the point of entry into the facility through their exit from the facility.
  4. The only exceptions are where the core activity or safety require shorter distance (for example, pallbearers).

A household is any number of people who live together in the same home. A household can be composed of one or more persons.

As participants arrive, fill sanctuaries front to back. Congregants should exit back to front. Alternatively, religious facilities may use another method of seat designation (reservations, “tickets”, ushers) to strategically fill and empty congregants.

Face coverings should be worn by all participants inside the religious facility.

Faith communities should continue to offer outdoor or remote options to the extent possible. Encourage those at high risk of COVID-19 impacts (underlying health conditions and those over the age of 60) to participate in those alternative options.

To support improved ventilation, doors and windows should be kept open during the religious ceremony where possible and appropriate.

Ceremonies that require physical contact between non-household contacts should be avoided.

Avoid activities such as singing or chanting.

For high holy days or other special gatherings, online registration/ticketing is strongly encouraged.

Community sharing of materials related to worship and other items, such as shared collection trays/baskets, bulletins, religious texts, hymnals, and other objects should be avoided wherever possible and cleaned using CDC and EPA approved disinfectants between use where not.

Religious facilities are encouraged to make hand hygiene stations available on site. Those may include places to wash hands or hand sanitizer with a minimum of 60% alcohol content.

Signage should be posted throughout religious facilities reminding congregants of COVID-19 best practices, including face coverings, physical distancing, and good hand hygiene.

The same physical distancing requirements as other segments of the Religious Facility are required in restrooms.

Screening

Prior to the first service of each day in which they participate, faith leaders, volunteers and other staff must be screened (verbally, in writing, or online) using these questions:
  • Are you suffering from any of the common symptoms of COVID-19 (coughing, difficulty breathing, loss of taste etc.)?
  • Have you had close personal contact with anybody known to have a positive COVID-19 diagnosis over the past two weeks?

Prior to the first service of each day in which they participate and where permitted by faith tradition, faith leaders, volunteers and other staff should have their temperature screened.

  • Any participant with a temperature in excess of 100.4°F should be excluded from the religious facility until at least 72 hours after symptoms resolve.

Religious facilities may also wish to screen (via questions and temperature) congregants for larger gatherings, when larger gatherings are allowed.

Any faith leader, volunteer, or congregant that exhibits symptoms consistent with COVID-19 must be excluded from the facility until at least 72 hours after their symptoms resolve.

Face coverings/masks

See Montgomery County face covering guidance and #MaskUpMoCo campaign information.

Face coverings/masks are required to be worn by all individuals participating in a religious service inside the Religious Facility. This includes faith leaders, volunteers, and congregants.

When speaking inside the Religious Facility and outdoors when physical distancing is not possible, a speaker is required to wear a face covering, even if a face shield or other barrier such as plexiglass is between the individual and the congregants.

Cleaning and disinfecting

Restrooms and high-contact surfaces including seats, door handles, and other physical implements utilized in the conduct of religious services must be cleaned between use as much as possible or at least between each religious service using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Environmental Protection Agency approved disinfectants.

See more guidance:

Singing / call-and-response activities / music

Choirs and congregational singing are among the most dangerous activities because they generate a larger number of infectious aerosol particles over an extended period of time.

Avoid singing during services. Replace singing with recorded music or live instrumental music.

If singing or recitation is an important part of a service, Religious Facilities could limit those activities to one individual—for example, a soloist or cantor—who is further distanced from the rest of the congregation. While singing inside the Religious Facility and outdoors when physical distancing is not possible, a singer is required to wear a face covering.

Wind and brass instruments should similarly be avoided until more research can determine their safety. A preliminary study suggests that some of these instruments may produce aerosol droplets in a similar fashion to singing.

Recommended time frame between worship services

The time between services is determined by the size of the Religious Facility and the gathering size for each service.

Allow enough time after each service for the congregants to exit the facility, and for restrooms and high contact surfaces including seats, door handles, and other physical implements utilized in the conduct of faith to be cleaned using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Environmental Protection Agency approved disinfectants.

Avoid situations where people gather in the lobby or common areas where distancing requirements are difficult to maintain.

Transporting congregants that are not in your household

To transport congregants that are not in your household in personal vehicles, follow the same precautions as when riding in any vehicle with non-household members, i.e., wearing of face coverings, maintaining safe distance between passengers as much as possible, allowing fresh outside air to circulate through the vehicle, proper cleaning/disinfecting of the vehicle before and after the transport, etc.

Persons with COVID-19 diagnosis or symptoms

If a Religious Facility learns that a person who attended or participated in a religious ceremony is diagnosed with or develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the Religious Facility must notify Montgomery County Disease Control at 240-777-1755 as soon as possible.

Anyone may sue an establishment for any number of reasons, including for contracting COVID-19.

A Religious Facility should be able to defend against such claims by following the  Montgomery County Executive Ordersthe Health Officer’s Directives on masks, and any Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Maryland Department of Health guidance.

Religious Facilities should consult with appropriate legal counsel for guidance on this matter.

Indoor air quality and COVID-19

See Montgomery County’s COVID-19 Ventilation and Filtration Guidance.

See more information:

COVID-19 Health Information

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

See more symptom information:

If I or a member of my household exhibits symptoms of COVID-19

Contact your healthcare provider. If you have an emergency warning sign (including trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face), get emergency medical care immediately. If you are symptomatic and need help in finding testing, please call the Montgomery County Testing Helpline at 240-777-1755. The Helpline is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.

General Information

Where can I find State of Maryland COVID-19 data, information, and resources?

See Maryland Department of Health updates.

Where can I find information about COVID-19 testing in the State of Maryland?

Find a testing site in Maryland near you.

Where can I find reopening information for the State of Maryland?

See “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery” information.

Where can I find information about COVID-19 contact tracing?

See information about the covidLINK program, part of the Maryland Department of Health’s Contact Tracing program.

“Contact tracing is the process of identifying people who may have come into contact with an individual with an infectious disease, in this case COVID-19. The contact tracer reaches out by phone to someone who has tested positive for the virus to determine their whereabouts and close contacts for the two-week period of time when they may have been infectious. Maryland has also contracted with NORC at the University of Chicago, one of the largest independent social research organizations in the United States, to assist in contact tracing efforts.”

Where can I find Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 data, information, and resources?

See "Coronavirus (COVID-19)", from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Where can I find Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 information for Religious Facilities?

See "Community and Faith-Based Organizations", from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How do I receive newsletters and updates from the Faith Community Advisory Council?

Visit the Faith Community Advisory Council (FCAC) website, and sign up for the newsletter. Or, contact FCAC’s Interfaith Community Liaison at interfaith@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Is there a penalty if guidelines are not followed? Who is responsible for the penalty if the members of the congregation are refusing to follow guidance?

Regarding enforcement, the County's first priority is education. We will work collaboratively to answer questions and provide guidance. Submit inquiries for clarification for activities allowable under the Executive Order.

For enforcement issues, report a violation. Public Health Services Licensure and Regulatory Services will follow up.