Colorado classifies churches, weddings as “critical services” with looser COVID-19 restrictions

Colorado houses of worship and activities like weddings and funerals no longer have to comply with a cap on the number of people who can attend, though they still have to keep those from different households six feet apart.

An amended order, released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment late Monday night, classified houses of worship as critical businesses, and life rites such as weddings, funerals and baptisms as critical services, whether they occur in a religious setting or not.

Masks are still required at indoor events, and the state health department urged religious leaders to consider moving services outdoors.

In late November, the Supreme Court struck down restrictions in New York that limited houses of worship to 10 people in areas with the highest level of COVID-19 spread, and 25 people in the second-highest level, according to The New York Times. Colorado’s previous rules allowed up to 10 people at indoor worship under the state’s highest restrictions, Level Purple. Under the second-highest restrictions, Level Red, houses of worship could operate at 25% of capacity, up to a 50-person cap.

In some cases, religious events and life ceremonies led to large COVID-19 outbreaks. A wedding reception in Maine with 55 guests led to 177 cases of the new coronavirus and seven deaths, some of them in people who didn’t attend. Early in the pandemic, more than half of the 61 participants in a choir rehearsal in Washington state contracted the virus, and two died.

The new order also allows museums, zoos and aquariums to have guests indoors in counties that are at Level Red on the state’s dial framework. Those settings would be limited to 25% of capacity or 25 people per room, whichever is fewer. That means museums can operate at a higher percentage of capacity than gyms and non-critical offices, but lower than retail stores.

As of Tuesday morning, 31 counties were in Level Red on the state’s COVID-19 dial, including the entire Front Range.

The order also clarified that bars that only offer takeout and delivery aren’t required to serve food.

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