EL CENTRO — The Imperial County Board of Supervisors held an emergency meeting Tuesday, May 26, in regards to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s loosened restrictions on retail businesses and faith-based organizations. The Board reconvened to closed session to discuss the concerns for potential risk. Afterwards, the Board and Imperial County Public Health Officer Dr. Stephen Munday held a press conference to announce the amendments to the COVID-19 Health Order.
Effective Tuesday, May 26, retail businesses — not including higher-risk businesses like salons, beauty parlors, or barbers — and faith-based organizations began reopening with certain requirements and restrictions. Businesses must be able to maintain the social distancing guidelines and requirements set forth by the State.
Munday signed the amended order to allow faith-based organizations to congregate and participate in certain religious activities. Face coverings are still required by the County, in addition to the social distancing guidelines of at least six feet.
Faith-based groups cannot congregate with more than 100 people or 25 percent of the facility’s maximum occupancy — whichever number is smallest. Members must maintain the six-foot social distancing guideline during congregations. Sunday School and other children’s church gatherings are prohibited. However, children may still attend services with their families.
Singing, group prayer, and liturgy activities are prohibited except through alternative methods like the internet. Munday said this is because of the aerosolization caused by vigorous talking, which can spread further than six feet.
Other practices such as kissing ritual objects and passing offering plates are prohibited as well. Communion may continue if groups use pre-packaged items and leave the items on seats for members to receive. Munday said this practice is to limit the hand-to-hand transfers between organization members.
“The decisions the County Board of Supervisors have made over the past few months have definitely been difficult — no question about that. We have based our decisions considering, not only the health and the effects of COVID-19, but our community’s physical health, spiritual and mental health, and financial health as well. We take this into consideration every step that we begin to consider towards reopening,” said Chairman of the Board, Supervisor Luis Plancarte.
According to Plancarte, the COVID-19 positive rate should be about 8 percent. However, Imperial County’s positive rate is at 29 percent — a five percent increase from the previous.
Munday explained some counties in California have been able to work through Stage II faster than others, working through the criteria set forth by the State. Imperial County is currently in Stage II Low-Risk. The County has not yet met the criteria to move through Stage II to High-Risk.