Places of worship can now hold unlimited size gatherings outdoors, restrictions on age dropped


Amy Cherry

Places of worship can now hold their religious services outdoors with no restrictions on gatherings or the ages of participants.

The state updated its guidance Saturday, stating that those attending outdoor services must practice social distancing and wear face coverings. Synagogues, mosques, and churches are asked to "strongly discourage" parishioners aged 65 and older, who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, to stay home. That's

a change in previous guidance, which told those 65 and older, along with those who are sick -- "do not enter."

All indoor services are still under strict occupancy limitations, and all gatherings of any other kind are restricted to 10 persons or less.

Delaware had deemed religious organizations "essential" when other businesses were deemed "non-essential" and forced to close. But places of worship were hard-pressed to be able to hold services given the state had restricted gatherings to 10 persons or less. 

Then, the state issued its first guidance on the subject on Monday, May 18, 2020, allowing places of worship to hold religious services indoors one day per week with occupancy limited to 30 percent and social distancing practices in place. Virtual services were encouraged. " The one-day per week requirement mysteriously dropped off the state's guidance by the next day, opening up services for seven days a week. Now, restrictions on age have also been eliminated, though, the elderly remain "strongly discouraged" not to attend. Also eliminated any time limit on services.

"Delawareans have fundamental right to practice their faith, but we need everyone to do so safely. You don’t have a right to get others sick,” said Governor John Carney.

The governor faces a federal lawsuit for limitations placed on worship under the public health State of Emergency and its various modifications, filed by the Reverend Dr. Christopher Allan Bullock, pastor of Canaan Baptist Church, near New Castle.  

A teleconference in the case with Judge Colm Connolly is scheduled for May 28, 2020. Bullock's attorney Tom Neuberger is confident the governor's order/guidance will be struck down.

This is a victory too for [the] pastor and anyone 65 or older.  The entire 4 page Order will be struck down this Thursday," said Neuberger in a written statement Saturday. "Freedom is just a few days away for churches. Carney has not done this out of the goodness of his heart, but because his tyranny is being brought before the courts."

Under the governor's 19th Modification to his State of Emergency, signed Friday, the governor also gave restaurants, bars, and taprooms the ability to expand outdoor seating with their local municipality or county jurisdiction when they reopen when Phase 1 begins on June 1. Indoor seating is limited to 30 percent occupancy.  

Establishments can click here for the outdoor seating application for Delaware restaurants.

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