Washington Gov. Inslee announces expanded coronavirus reopening capacity for faith-based services

Church services can get a little busier in one Western state as counties there enter Phase 3 of reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced updated guidance for religious services on Thursday, doubling the current capacity that religious and faith-based organizations can invite inside at a given time.

"Faith communities are pillars of strength, connection and healing for so many Washingtonians," Inslee tweeted. "Today, I updated our religious and faith-based service guidance to permit larger gatherings while still keeping people safe and healthy."

During the new stage, places of worship can accommodate up to 50 percent their normal capacity or up to 400 people, whichever is less, Inslee’s office said Thursday.

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Grays Harbor became the 12th of Washington’s counties to move into Phase 3 as of Wednesday, joining Pacific, Wahkiakum, Skamania, Columbia, Garfield, Asotin, Whitman, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens and Ferry.

More counties are expected to do so soon.

Other restrictions on social distancing, face coverings and sanitation procedures remain in place.

Earlier phases of the state’s reopening protocols capped in-person services at 25 percent capacity or 200 people.

The counties still under Phase 1 of the reopening can only host outdoor services with crowds of up to 100 worshipers. More information about which counties are in each stage is available at the state government’s website.

Other requirements on religious and faith-based organizations include screening employees for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 at the start of their shifts, providing them with personal protective equipment, and frequent cleaning of facilities – especially commonly touched surfaces.

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Even as parts of the state begin to reopen, Washington’s official coronavirus response website tells visitors, “Staying home is still safest.”

There were at least 26,784 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Washington as of Tuesday night, according to the state's most recent data. More than 1,200 people had died.

The highest concentrations were in Yakima, Pierce, King and Snohomish counties.