Despite being able to resume indoor services at a limited capacity under Kern County’s newest COVID-19 prevention classifications, various local faith leaders are electing not to return indoors and instead continue being creative with how they serve their congregants.
On Tuesday, Kern County moved from the most restrictive purple tier on the state's four-tiered system into the red tier. The classification allows restaurants to begin serving customers indoors, and it means movie theaters, places of worship, personal care services and gyms can now reopen with COVID-19 prevention measures — and limits on capacity — in place.
Rabbi Jonathan Klein, from Temple Beth El, said he will continue providing virtual services via Zoom. He said that this decision partially stems from the fact that many of his congregants are “much older” and immunocompromised.
“I want to make sure we can make people safe,” Klein said. “Nothing would upset me more than prematurely opening and having people getting sick and dying.”
He also cited the unknown long-term effects of COVID-19 as another reason to take a cautious approach to returning to indoor services. While some members of Temple Beth El have contracted the virus, Klein said, thankfully, none have died.
Klein took over as rabbi at the synagogue in May and said he's been able to use the pandemic as an opportunity to connect with the community.
“I was able to shift the focus away from day-in-day-out stuff to be able to meet the whole congregation,” Klein said. “The pandemic has made me work harder and made me have greater results. It’s forced me not to rely on assuming people would come to me.”
Similarly, Pastor Angelo Frazier from RiverLakes Community Church said his church is going to continue holding its Sunday services both outdoors and virtually. He said the recent outdoor services have attracted about 200 to 300 worshipers.
“I don’t think the plans are to move everyone in just yet,” Frazier said. “With the potential for a second wave (this winter), some people are real apprehensive about going back into a building.”
He said the church is going to begin with moving small worship groups and youth groups indoors first. Because their Sunday services are from 9 to 10 a.m., the heat hasn’t been much of a detriment for the churchgoers, Frazier said.
Frazier said he has concerns that years could go by before people are comfortable going back indoors for gatherings.
“The disease itself has had people die from it, but the policies surrounding this disease have been detrimental,” Frazier said. “It’s going to be difficult to get things back.”
Denise McKenzie, safety and risk manager for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, said that all 25 of Kern County’s diocesan churches, missions and stations have been notified that they can resume indoor services. Although excited about the news, she said some churches have elected to have their services remain outdoors as well as in a virtual setting.
“There's a lot of cleaning and a lot of labor intensive things to make sure everyone stays safe,” McKenzie said. “All of our churches are different sizes too, so for some, they would have to possibly limit who could attend indoor Mass.”
She said parishioners have been informed that they don’t have to go to Mass if they have concerns or an underlying medical issue.
Klein spoke about how he’s been able to help the community stay connected on a much larger scale. He said they have gotten children of congregants who have moved away reconnected to the temple from as far away as Nevada, northern California and even Alaska.
“In terms of returning to a full service, we’ll have to figure out how to have a virtual connection once the pandemic ends for those newly involved (from afar),” Klein said. “We don’t want people to feel like this is the one moment they have to connect.”