Churches, synagogues can reopen in second phase

PLUS: Businesses allowed to take temperature, deny entry


It's a rather deliberate, cumbersome path to reopening in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, but there is good news for those missing their favorite sermon — churches, synagogues and mosques will once again be allowed to open. Just at 25 percent capacity.

It was part of an expansive executive order Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed over the weekend, which is available for any region that has entered the second phase of reopening. That already includes much of upstate, and will likely become available to Long Island and the Mid-Hudson region — both of which are expected to begin the second phase of reopening this week.

New York City will begin its first phase of reopening on Monday, but won't be eligible for second phase until June 22 at the earliest.

During his daily coronavirus briefing on Saturday, the governor said that "25 percent is not as easy as 100 percent, but that is a mass gathering, and you can't really do social distancing."

Instead, this will allow religious groups to once again restart indoor services, provided that church, synagogue or mosque also follows disinfectant protocols established by the state. 

Still, Cuomo warned those looking to return to religious services to be smart about it. That's especially true at entrances and such, where people may congregate to shake hands with a minister or rabbi.

"It doesn't mean you sit right next to a person," he said. "You have to social distance."

Cuomo also is allowing commercial buildings and store owners to check the temperature of anyone coming in, and refusing to allow entry to those who show a fever or refuse to have their temperature measured. The move is based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state's health department, the governor said, and must be implemented keeping laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and those covering human rights in mind.

There is some dispute over how effective such measures will be, considering those who are asymptomatic — and thus not showing fever — can still spread the virus. Also, a variety of issues and medications can cause fever, nearly all of which are not related to the coronavirus.

"Given the fact that a significant number of people with COVID-19 do not develop a fever, the available mass temperature screening technologies may miss the presence of one," Dr. James Leo, chief medical officer for California's MemorialCare, told the Healthline website last month. 

"In addition, the frequent use of fever-lowering medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen may also disguise a potential COVID-related fever."

Finally, Cuomo's executive order Saturday officially allowed restaurants and bars to re-open for dine-in service, as long as that service is done outside. The order allows for restaurants and bars to seek space on sidewalks and closed streets immediately adjacent to their establishments, and even serve alcohol at that distance. 

Part of it is all not just part of the reopening, but the fact that New York's infection rates and hospitalizations continue to remain at their lowest levels since the crisis started, Cuomo said. 

A little more than 1 percent of nearly 78,000 people tested on June 5 were positive, according to data provided by the state. That compares to New York's peak on April 14, where 43 percent of those tested were positive. 

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