This week Governor Asa Hutchinson and officials with the Arkansas Department of Health attributed a rise in COVID-19 cases in the state to places of worship. They issued new mask guidelines for churches across the state.
First Baptist Church Senior Pastor D.L. Richardson, who has a doctorate in Bible and theology, said church service this Sunday will slightly look different now with the new mask guidance.
Pastor Richardson said throughout the pandemic their church has been following each guideline, but he said as the state makes changes so will his church.
On Tuesday Governor Hutchinson announced new mask guidelines that recommend all masks are to worn at all times at all by congregants, except those who are medically exempt, especially those who are singing. The guideline also says for those attending church services, they must also stay at least six-feet apart from each other both indoors and outdoors.ADVERTISING
Richardson said this is a guideline he believes all church leaders should follow.
“We do preach holiness, but we have to also preach healthiness, so when I heard about the mandate and the numbers continuing to rise, me, myself personally felt that some additional measurements needed to be put in place,” Richardson said.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, from May until October, Pulaski County had the highest number of coronavirus cases related to people who attend church services. They say the number of cases tied to houses of worship was 250 to 300.
Richardson said felt like the mask guidelines show many houses of worship are being careless with taking the virus seriously. He said at their church it’s a requirement that everyone wears a face-covering before entering the building. He also said they have rearranged their pews, are consistently practicing social distancing, and have suspended large church gatherings.
“The reality of the matter is the numbers are up, and there are various cases in some of our churches, and then if you get online and even look, you see that some of the churches are not taking these precautionary measures,” Richardson said.
Church choir director Keisha Richard-Patterson said this new recommendation will pose challenges for its members.
“It’s difficult, the material is coming across my lips, so I’m having to adjust that I am sounding clear, and that will be going through all of our minds as we try to speak and praise the lord on Sunday,” Richard-Patterson said.
Richardson said they have only allowed up to 25 members to attend in-person services and reduced its choir from 40 to less than a dozen people to their music ministry. He said after every Sunday service they will be disinfecting the entire church.
Officials with the department of health say Craighead, Pope, Benton, and Washington counties all reported over 150 cases from people who had attended a worship service.