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Outdoor religious gatherings draw warnings and rebukes from health officials

Alex Wigglesworth and Cindy Chang, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. -- Along Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach, electronic road signs were programmed to read: CANCELED SATURATE OC.

But the evangelical worship event took place on the sand near Lifeguard Tower 20 for the fourth Friday in a row, despite warnings that it was violating public health orders and permitting rules, officials said. Its organizers estimate as many as 1,800 people attended for nearly two hours of musical performances, baptisms and prayers.

Days earlier, minister and musician Sean Feucht urged his fellow Christians to join him under the Sundial Bridge in Redding for a night of worship.

"Bring a mask (we'll have some if you need). Spread out. Let's worship Jesus and love on our city!" he said on Twitter.

But videos of the July 22 gathering show people crowded together with no masks, waving their hands in the air and singing songs of praise.

It's been nearly two weeks since Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the re-closure of churches in much of the state amid a worrying resurgence of new coronavirus cases. Though outdoor worship services are still permitted, participants are supposed to wear face coverings and keep six feet apart, as is required when Californians are around anyone who is not a member of their household.

 

But from Orange County to Northern California, people continue to gather for large outdoor ceremonies without following the rules, prompting stern reprimands from public health officials.

The Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency recommended that anyone who attended the Redding service get tested for the coronavirus and self-quarantine for 14 days.

"We truly empathize with all who have had to change the way they worship in the past few months," the agency said in a news release. "Very sadly, some of our local cases of COVID-19, including hospitalizations, have resulted from faith gatherings, and it's critical that our faith community leaders continue to offer safe services that follow the state guidelines."

The health agency noted in its statement that "there was much physical touching" at the event, and the crowd was too large to fit in the area around the bridge while maintaining social distancing.

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