Reopening Tennessee: Places of worship should ‘supply cloth face coverings’ and ‘ensure seating is spaced out’


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL)- As Tennessee has already begun a phased reopening of services across the state, officials released new guidelines for places of worship as in-person services resume.

The following are a list of guidelines provided by the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Here are some guidelines for your faith community as you determine when and how to offer in-person gatherings:

  1. Evaluate how you can provide for your congregation spiritually and emotionally, while continuing
    to protect vulnerable populations and reduce the spread of COVID-19.
    Guidance for Gathering Together in Houses of Worship May 1, 2020 Page 2 of 5
  2. Wear face coverings. Social distance by staying 6 feet away from others. Consult the CDC
    guidelines and guidance from your local health officials to determine the risks of gathering in
    person. This should include thinking about the percentage of your community classified as
    vulnerable, how conducive your facility is to allowing social distancing, the size of your
    community, and more.
  3. A phased approach to resuming in-person gatherings is recommended. Vulnerable populations
    (everyone 65 years and older, people with disabilities, people with serious respiratory or
    cardiovascular conditions, people who are immunocompromised, and others) and children’s
    activities/nursery programs should not gather in person until a later time. Consider solutions to
    minimize close personal contact that may be part of your services, such as handshakes or sharing
    food and drink.
  4. As the phased approach begins, limit the size of attendance in your sanctuary and other confined
    spaces to create seating arrangements that provide at least 6-foot distancing between household
    units. It is recommended not to exceed 50% of maximum capacity of the room and should enable
    full compliance with CDC recommendations for social distancing and hygiene. Over time, as
    Tennessee continues to see the successful containment of COVID-19, it will be appropriate to
    gradually increase capacity.
  5. Encourage members of your community to stay at home if they are symptomatic, have a fever,
    have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, or have traveled internationally
    or to a domestic hot spot in the past two weeks.
  6. If you learn that a member of your congregation has tested positive for COVID-19, consult CDC
    guidelines and local health department recommendations to determine whether you should
    immediately cease in-person gatherings, close for additional cleaning, or otherwise change your
  7. Stay informed of updated safety protocols and recommendations as the COVID-19 situation in
    your community develops.


Leading well through this time of uncertainty is essential; involve your leadership team to creatively and safely navigate this time of transition. There will naturally be new ministry opportunities to develop, and some prior ministry programs may change drastically.

Communicate to your congregation the steps you are taking to maintain clean and safe
conditions on campus and to deliver relevant ministries safely.

Extend the good habits your community has embraced since the start of the COVID-19
pandemic, such as pastoral care through small groups and digital communication and look for
opportunities to adopt additional best practices.

Evaluate which practices are inappropriate to continue while COVID-19 remains a threat.

Require a COVID-19 symptom and temperature check on all staff and volunteers.
A. Screen all staff and volunteers for COVID-19 symptoms before services with the
following questions:
o Have you been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19?
o Are you experiencing a cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat?
o Have you had a fever in the last 48 hours?
o Have you had new loss of taste or smell?
o Have you had vomiting or diarrhea in the last 24 hours?
B. Temperature screening for staff and volunteers before services:
o Best practice: employers to take temperatures on site with a no-touch
thermometer each day upon arrival at work.
o Minimum: Temperatures can be taken before arriving. Normal temperature
should not exceed 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
C. Direct any staff member or volunteer who exhibits COVID-19 symptoms (i.e., answers
yes to any of the screening questions or who is running a fever) to leave the premises
immediately and seek medical care and/or COVID-19 testing, per CDC guidelines.
Employers should maintain the confidentiality of this health information.

Plan for potential COVID-19 cases, and work with local health department officials when needed
(e.g., monitor and trace COVID-19 cases, deep clean facilities)

Prepare Your House of Worship

Prepare your facility for in-person worship and gathering. Walk your campus with fresh eyes regarding upkeep and cleanliness. Invite medical professionals to help develop best practices related to the health of your congregation.


Implement new protocols to reduce the spread of the virus.

  • Mitigate exposure by implementing social distancing guidelines – Stay at least 6 feet from
    other people, don’t hug or shake hands, and follow other CDC guidelines
  • Implement cleaning and disinfection practices, according to CDC guidelines
  • Sanitize shared resources after each use, and sanitize all high-traffic/high-touch areas
    (restrooms, doorknobs, counters, microphones, seats, etc.)
  • Use a clearly designated entrance and a separate clearly designated exit to maintain social
    distancing. Put up signs so it’s clear to everyone.

Communicate with members of your faith community (flyers, e-mail, social media) about steps you’re taking to prepare the house of worship for their arrival and ways the in-person gathering will be different. Remind them of social distancing protocols. Be mindful of the diverse health needs of other members. Remind people who are sick or have been exposed to not attend in-person gatherings and participate virtually instead.


Modify the logistics of in-person gatherings to promote social distancing.

  1. We recommend returning to in-person gatherings in phases for your in-person ministries.
    Communicate with vulnerable populations and families requiring child care during the worship service to encourage them to delay their return for several weeks. Keep an online meeting option for those who are uncomfortable or unable to attend your service in person for any reason.
  2. Offer more services than you typically do to allow greater social distancing and accommodate
    lower capacity limits, while considering spacing services out to allow for cleaning and social
  3. Ensure seating is spaced out at least six feet apart, with groups of seats together to allow
    household units to sit together. Consider broadcasting the service to other rooms in the facility
    to allow proper social distancing.
  4. Move and limit unnecessary physical objects in order to reduce potential transmission of the
  5. Develop a fun, no-contact way to greet each other. Rely on staff or other ministers to welcome
    congregants and set the tone for new behaviors.
  6. Consider creating new routes or methods of entrance and exit, avoiding congregating in highly
    populated areas, and dismissing in an orderly way to ensure proper social distancing

Worship Programming

  1. Modify distribution protocols if your tradition involves shared food or drink (e.g. communion).
    Avoid passing a plate or cup.
  2. Temporarily replace a choir with soloists or small ensembles of individuals at least 6 feet apart.
  3. Avoid sharing and passing microphones.
  4. Create other ways to allow people to give without passing collection plates (e.g. stations,
    encouraging online giving).
  5. Consider dividing smaller gatherings, like Sunday School or Sabbath School classes, into smaller groups to maintain the social distancing standards.


  1. Post signs to remind people to wash their hands and practice social distancing (e.g. restrooms).
  2. Make sure there is soap and/or hand sanitizer to make it easy for people to access and use
  3. Supply cloth face coverings (N-95 masks and surgical masks should be reserved for medical
    providers). Face coverings should not be returned or used by multiple people.
  4. Coffee stations should be closed, and group meals are strongly discouraged.

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