HARTFORD, CT — The pews could be a little fuller this Sunday, but it’s unlikely people will be rushing back to attend worship services inside.
Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order Friday easing the social distancing restrictions for churches, mosques, temples and other places of worship.
Indoor services will be limited to 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is less. Religious leaders also will be allowed to hold outdoor services with up to 150 people. The previous limit was 49 people.
Ministers, pastors, Imams and Sikh leaders said they still don’t want people over the age of 65 attending services in person, and they plan to make sure everyone stays safe and wears a mask and keeps their distance.
Swanjit Singh of the Sikh religion thanked Lamont for allowing them to get connected “with divine activities again so we can have the moral strength, divine strength by remembering God in whatever way we worship.”
Imam Nihal Khan of the Islamic Center of Connecticut said recommendations have been offered by the governor’s office, but each faith community needs to figure out what is the best way to open up a house of worship.
He said people look for solutions to problems through their faith “so it’s important we pray together.”
Kelcy Steele, pastor of the Varick Memorial AME Zion Church in New Haven, said will continue to hold virtual services because his congregants have pre-existing health conditions and are largely African-American, a population that has been dispropritionatley impacted by the virus.
“I’d like to see these numbers come down a lot more before I open the doors,” Steele said.
Rev. Boise Kimber of Calvary Baptist Church in New Haven said they will not have a choir because singing could help spread the virus. Instead, they will have one soloist who will be doing the singing.
Lamont also lightened the restrictions on personal social gatherings. The new limit will be 10 people indoors and 25 people outside.
“It’s an art as well as a science,” Lamont said of setting social-distancing criteria.
“My broad thinking was guided by obviously our healthcare committee,” Lamont said. “Outside is safer than inside. Younger are much less likely to suffer complications. Small groups and small gatherings are safer than large groups and large gatherings and alcohol is not great in any context.”
The two tribal casinos in southeastern Connecticut also plan to open Saturday by invitation only. The casinos will open to the public at 9 a.m. Monday, June 1.
Lamont said he made progress with the casinos, but not as much as he would have wanted. The governor pointed out that Connecticut’s casinos plan to reopen earlier than those in neighboring states or even Las Vegas.
While the casinos will be open, they will not allow people from out-of-state to stay in their hotels.
“And for that I am very appreciative,” Lamont said.
Lamont said masks will be required inside and the casinos will offer outdoor dining only.
One casino said they would not allow smoking, the governor said, but he did not say which one.
Lamont was disappointed he couldn’t convince the casinos not to serve alcohol.