L.A. County health officials: Don’t attend indoor church services no matter what judge says

Although recent court rulings led Los Angeles County to reverse its ban on indoor worship, the region’s health officials asked the public on Christmas Eve to avoid such gatherings anyway — citing the hospitals that are overwhelmed by the surge in coronavirus cases.

“No matter what a Superior Court judge says and given what’s happening now, it is simply too risky to gather indoors with other people who do not live with you,” the L.A. County Department of Public Health said in a statement.

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations began rising sharply across the state in mid-November. Currently, L.A. County hospitals are admitting about 1,000 new COVID-19 patients every day, and nearly one in five residents tested for the coronavirus is positive, the health department said.

As of Tuesday, when the state last updated its data, only 355 ICU beds in L.A. County were available out of 21,556 licensed beds.

The county has struggled to contain COVID-19 cases for months and has imposed some of the strictest health restrictions in the state, including prohibiting indoor church services. But the county health department lifted the ban over the weekend after a Kern County judge stopped the state, L.A. County and other jurisdictions from enforcing it, the Los Angeles Times reported. The judge cited the Supreme Court’s decision in November to block attendance limits at houses of worship in New York.

In lifting the ban, L.A. County’s health officials issued mandates for indoor services, including physical distancing and the use of facial coverings. The requirements only “help to reduce the risk, but do not eliminate it,” the health department emphasized Thursday.

The agency encouraged people to instead worship outdoors or stream a church service online.

“The local emergency rooms and hospitals are over-capacity. And there are no indications of an end in sight to the current surge,” the health department said in its statement.

Local Catholic church leader Archbishop José H. Gomez also said that celebrating mass outdoors is safer. However, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said that “if a pastor believes it is better to offer live-streamed Mass only or to celebrate Mass indoors (if permitted by his County and in keeping with their protocols), he may proceed accordingly.” The group released additional guidelines intended to avoid the spread of the coronavirus inside churches.

Meanwhile, an attorney for the Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church said it will continue to fight state restrictions that are affecting its other locations in California.

“The option to attend church in the house of God is a sacred right that we intend to protect for both our family and friends,” a statement on the group’s website said.

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