Coronavirus Chicago: Houses of worship cleared to open doors to 50 people or less, under city's Phase 3 reopening plan

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago cleared houses of worship to open their doors to more people for in-person services on Saturday.

The new "Be Safe. Places of Worship" guidelines allow a maximum of 50 people per room or 25% of the room capacity, whichever is fewer, as long as required social distancing can be maintained, according to a release from Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office. The guidance comes days after Chicago formally transitioned to Phase 3 of its reopening plan.

The city has been working with various faith leaders to draft the guidelines, according to officials.

Houses of worship will also be required to provide sanitation stations, frequently disinfect facilities and ensure people wear facial coverings, according to the release.
However, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends that the elderly or those with underlying health conditions continue to practice their faith from home.

A church on the West Side is preparing for more people in their pews on Sunday.

"We will have people at the door, usher watching to make sure that we don't go past that number," said Greater St. John Bible Church Pastor Ira Acree. "I don't want this place to be bombarded with congregants tomorrow, but I tell you it's going to be great joy to see some faces I haven't seen."

Pastor Acree said his congregation will be wearing face coverings and seated more than 6-feet apart. He said there will be plenty of sanitizer out for use.

Acree knows the dangers of COVID-19 after he and his wife beat the virus last month.

"We make a special plea for those who are elderly, just to stay home right now. And for those who have underlying conditions, please don't come," Acree said.

Dozens of parishes have been approved to reopen by the Archdiocese of Chicago, but that doesn't mean they will this weekend. Many religious leaders across all faiths in the city are planning to stay the course with virtual services.

Pastor Marshall Hatch said he isn't ready to open his church.

Hatch said the New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church usually draws a "a few hundred people."

"That's going to be difficult to try to figure which people who can attend worship," he said.

The new guidelines were released on the first weekend of Phase 3 of the city's reopening plan. In this phase, restaurants are open for outdoor dining.

Restaurant owners and managers in Wicker Park said they're happy to be back in business.

"Seeing our customers, seeing our staff back together and everyone is just so excited," said Maria Sepsis, general manager of Via Carducci La Sorella.
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