Services must abide by social distancing mandates and the "best practices" for churches remain strongly recommended by the Governor.
On Monday, April 20, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced the easing of many COVID-19 restrictions that had shut down businesses and left social gatherings in limbo – including church services and funerals
The April 20 announcement allowed for churches to once again offer in-person services, but only if strict social distancing guidelines where adhered to.
While today’s (May 12) Executive Order (EO) did not mention churches specifically, Kemp made it clear that all social distancing, group restriction and hygiene restrictions, such as those for church services, would be continued under the same mandates that have been in place since the issuance of the Reviving A Healthy Georgia Order (EO 04.23.20.02) on April 23.
“No business, establishment, for-profit or non-profit corporation, organization, or county or municipal government is allowed to have more than 10 people gathering in a single location unless there is at least six feet between each person at all times. This rule applies to church services and funeral services,” stated Kemp’s April EO.
Under the wording of the order, the ban on “groups” of 10 or more people caused a good measure of confusion throughout Georgia on a number of fronts, including its application to churches and funeral services. Underlying social distancing measures mandated, and still mandate, that Georgians remain six feet from other individuals who are not members of the same household. This applies whether it is one other person that is not a member of the same household, five other people, or 50 other people. Since the wording of the “ban on gatherings” only bans gatherings of 10 or more if they cannot maintain a 6-foot distance from all other non-household members, the “ban on gatherings" appeared to be superfluous.
Further clarifications on the “gatherings” ban issued at various points by Kemp’s office within the slate of Executive Orders of the past several weeks specified that any ban on “gatherings” does not include:
Members of the same household, whether the gathering of these household members is within their home, or outside their home in public, including places of business such as restaurants.
Transitory or incidental gatherings, or where their grouping is “a result of being spread across more than one single location.”
"Unfortunately, several community outbreaks can be directly attributed to recent, in-person church services and funeral services," stated an earlier comment by Kemp, urging the cancellation of in-person services, though the order did not expressly forbid them as long as social distancing guidelines were met. "Public health officials strongly discourage gatherings of people for these services due to the high risk of transmission of novel coronavirus."
Specific guidelines for churches were issued in a handout-style document by the Governor’s office following the issuance of the Reviving A Healthy Georgia Order. Those guidelines are as follows: