Churchgoers in Arkansas are now required to wear a mask during services—even while singing. Governor Asa Hutchinson announced on Tuesday the new guidelines come amidst a surge of COVID-19 cases in Arkansas, a sizable portion of which are linked to in-person worship gatherings.
“It’s not just a question of do I want to wear a mask or not but in the practice of charity, in the practice of justice we need to be conscious of other people, other people who might be more vulnerable than we are,” Father Erik Pohlmeier said during a press conference on Tuesday.
Pohlmeier is the pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Little Rock and was invited to speak to the public during a press conference organized by Hutchinson’s administration. The Governor also invited Dr. Sonny Tucker, the executive director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, to speak. He thanked both clergy members for their dedication to keeping the community safe.
New Guidelines for Churches
Hutchinson emphasized that the new guidelines are not an attempt to keep people from going to church. “We’re not saying don’t go to church…you certainly can do that if guidelines are followed,” he explained.
However, “The numbers aren’t good. The trend is not good,” Hutchinson said. He cited 945 new cases have been reported in the last 24-hours in Arkansas. And while only four people died in that time period, the Governor explained this is a lag measure and that the death toll is likely to go up as the number of cases rises.
The new guidelines Hutchinson announced include:
Masks need to be worn at all times, with the exception of those who are exempt due to a medical condition. “Masks are the biggest factor that contribute to safe worship.”
“Strict six foot physical distancing” must be maintained, both indoors and outdoors.
“Unmasked congregational singing is the primary driver of transmission in churches—even if people are six feet apart. Singing produces aerosols that can increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”
During the press conference, Hutchinson showed a map of Arkansas indicating where large numbers of COVID-19 cases were linked to places of worship. One county, Pulaski county, has between 251 and 300 cases among people who attended a worship service.