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The Road to Reopening Houses of Worship

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(AP Photo/John Locher, File)

In this April 12, 2020, file photo, a woman prays while wearing a face mask before speaking at an Easter drive-in service at the International Church of Las Vegas, in Las Vegas.

As COVID-19 infection rates skyrocket, warnings are being reissued to people to social distance, wear masks and go out less. 

Some of the riskiest places to go, the CDC warns, are taverns and churches. 

Catholics make up the largest Christian faith in the state, with some 736,000 members in Southern Nevada alone. 

And services are being held again, after a brief closure ordered by the governor.

However, on Thursday, the church announced it was closing Holy Family Catholic Church after a priest who conducted mass there tested positive for COVID-19.

Church officials said the priest wore a mask and used hand sanitizer but they are recommending anyone who attended the mass conducted at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday be tested.

The incident highlights the problems churches have: How to safely conduct services for the faithful while keeping them safe from a highly contagious virus.

Greg Gordon is the monsignor for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas. He spoke to KNPR's State of Nevada before it was announced that a priest had tested positive.

He said the diocese is following all the guidelines set out by the CDC and the Southern Nevada Health District, including the 50-person rule for gatherings.  

It is enforcing the rule with a reservation system that fills up quickly.

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"Registration opens on Monday morning Sunday masses are already filled by Monday afternoon," Gordon said, "It's really a frustration on the part of people."

To accommodate as many parishioners as possible, the diocese live streams the services to more people if a gym is available. It is also live streaming on YouTube and Facebook for those who don't want to or can't make it physically to mass, which is how most Catholics are participating.   

"For Catholics, mass on Sundays and holy days is not only a great blessing and opportunity to commune with the Lord but it's an obligation. It's an obligation in faith," he said, "So, what the Bishop has done has dispensed that obligation through the month of August." 

The diocese is also requiring face coverings and temperature checks. It has also stopped allowing handshakes and hugging by members.

In addition, the sharing of the chalice and the passing out of the host, or sacramental bread, during holy communion has not been allowed since March.

The diocese has also changed how it conducts confessions. Gordon explained that instead of confession being conducted in small confession booths, most parishes have converted rooms in the church into confessionals, while others are conducting them outside.

Gordon admits the closure of the churches from the pandemic did hurt some of the members spiritually but now everyone is just trying to adapt the best they can.

"We just try to stay as connected to faithful as possible, using a live stream masses but also just staying connected with our parish web pages that we've all taken a new-found seriousness to," he said.

Similar changes have taken place at the oldest Islamic mosque in the Las Vegas Valley.

Fateen Seifullah is the imam of Masjid As-Sabur. He said his mosque is also sticking to the 50 person limits for services, but it is being done a first-come, first-serve basis.

Those who don't make it into the mosque can pray outside in the courtyard Seifullah said. There is also a second pray that follows the first for those who didn't make it inside.

For elderly members, the mosque has set aside multiple purpose rooms so they can be separated from other members.

Like in Catholic services, there are parts of the Islamic services where members embrace. Seifullah said that has been eliminated. 

"It is strongly discouraged," he said, "Although, you may see a little bit of it. That's probably one of the most burdensome aspects, along with when it wasn't open, because we're so used to sharing and expressing our brotherhood and love through some embrace even with a handshake or some kiss on the cheek."

One change that has been less burdensome is the wearing of face coverings. Seifullah said the majority of the members wear face coverings without complaint.

"They recognize the importance of taking care and protecting each other, even if it's not what they believe to be as harmful, they are concerned about their elders and the people that they love and they've been worshipping with for years now," he said.

There have been some members of faith communities that have said they are not worried about the virus because God will protect them. Both Gordon and Seiffulah say they believe in God's power but they also believe in listening to health experts.

"There is an expression in Islam, our Prophet - peace be upon Him - said, 'Trust in God but tie your camel.'" Seiffulah said, "We remind [members] of that statement, which essentially means: We all trust God but he's given us commonsense and we have to use it."  

Guests

Greg Gordon, Monsignor, Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas; Fateen Seifullah, Imam, Masjid As-Sabur

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