Priest in facemask pic

Just days before Easter – one of the most important religious events of the year – the State of Alaska has released safety guidelines for religious groups.

The April 7 health alert from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says places of worship are free to hold “drive-in” services where participants gather in vehicles near religious facilities.

The alert clarifies that Alaskans may “leave their homes to travel by vehicle to and from the religious facility, and must remain in their vehicle at all times.”

Only household members are allowed in each vehicle, which must be parked at least six feet apart.

“It’s putting a strain on everyone in all aspects of our lives,” Dunleavy said.

“This will be ensured by clearly marked parking stalls or directed by parking lot staff wearing reflective clothing and face coverings,” the alert notes.

While gathered, participants may not interact physically with clergy or others. This includes, but is not limited to, passing collection plates. At all times social distancing of six feet or more must be observed.

As far as singing hymns, a minimum 10-foot separation must be maintained between each person.

The alert also includes guidelines for churches that have a tradition of distributing Easter baskets. They must follow these guidelines:

  • Those assisting with basket assembly or distribution must be screened and prohibited from participating if they have a fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of respiratory infection; have a history of out-of-state travel within the past 14 days; have a history of close contact to a person with COVID-19; or have undiagnosed respiratory infection in the past 14 days.
  • No gathering may be of more than 10 people and a minimum of six feet must be between every person included in assembly and distribution of baskets.
  • Participants must wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds prior to and after handling baskets or basket contents.
  • Participants must maintain at least six feet or more distance from people other than household members and wear a cloth face covering when around non-household members.
  • Live streaming religious services is allowed so long as the production does not involve more than 10 people who can remain at least six feet apart. Similarly, those singing must maintain 10 feet of separation. All non-speaking technical assistant personnel are asked to wear face coverings during the streaming production.

The health alert was sent by Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crumb and the state’s Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink.

There are still no allowances for weddings, graduations or funerals.

In his April 6 press conference, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he has received questions from faith-based organizations in the lead up to Easter Sunday. After urging them to follow the recommended protocols he expressed gratitude to all Alaskans for making sacrifices during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s putting a strain on everyone in all aspects of our lives,” he said. “This is one of the reasons we are trying to be as accommodating as possible for all Alaskans.”

“We know that this disrupts routines. We know that it separates families. We know that it separates friends. And we understand that this take a toll on people over time,” he added.

As of April 7, the state has reported 213 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 23 hospitalizations and six deaths.

“This is not something that any of us thought would ever happen in our lifetime,” Dunleavy said. “These things don’t schedule themselves, unfortunately, and this has happened on our watch.”

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Alaska issues health alert for religious gatherings

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.