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Episcopal Diocese of Maryland to stop all indoor services for at least two weeks amid surge of coronavirus cases

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland announced Monday that it is suspending all indoor services for at least two weeks and issued new guidance for baptisms and weddings due to the recent surge in coronavirus cases across the state.

All indoor worship is suspended until at least Nov. 28, the diocese said, and a decision to resume will be made no later than Nov. 23.

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Outdoor worship is allowed to continue but no more than 50 people should be present. Leadership teams of no more than 10 people are permitted to gather indoors to broadcast worship, the diocese said.

The diocese said in an email to its members that it is “entirely possible” and “probable” restrictions will continue through Christmas unless the COVID-19 positivity rate and hospitalization rate decrease. And when restrictions are eased, the diocese said, there still may be a cap on the number of the people who can gather in-person, regardless of what Maryland’s capacity might be set at.

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Additionally, the diocese said, up to four people who are singing can rehearse and perform inside, and up to 10 singers can do so outdoors.

Baptisms already scheduled can continue with the candidate, parents and sponsors, the diocese said, and weddings and funerals should have no more than 25 people.

“Given the trends, there is no indication that these rates are going to decrease any time soon; they are expected to continue to climb,” the diocese said.

For the first time since June, Maryland’s coronavirus positivity rate climbed above 5% on Monday. The state reported 1,375 news cases — it’s the sixth consecutive day the state has had 1,000 or more virus cases.

Last week, Gov. Larry Hogan urged Marylanders to stay vigilant about wearing masks and social distancing, but said “our statewide metrics do not yet warrant taking drastic immediate action.” The Republican announced Monday that he is planning to hold a news conference Tuesday at 5 p.m. to provide a COVID-19 update.

Baltimore City announced tighter restrictions Friday, including lowering capacity restrictions from 50% to 25% and shutting down bars that don’t serve food, along with requiring masks in all public spaces, indoors and out.

Local governments have the autonomy to tighten restrictions in their area. Current state rules allow restaurants and other businesses to operate at 75% capacity, but Baltimore has capped them at 50% since September.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is the first in the area to tighten restrictions around religious services.

Mary Ellen Russell, a spokeswoman for The Archdiocese of Baltimore, said parish communities have been committed to “keeping everyone safe.”

“Currently we are not putting any new changes into effect but have continued to stress the importance of maintaining the very stringent safety protocols we have in place, particularly with regard to wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and sanitizing our buildings,” Russell said.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore said it plans to continue monitoring local and state guidance for any adjustments that need to be made.

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