Churchgoers in Montgomery County must wear masks

People attending Sunday church services in Montgomery County will be required to wear face masks under a state mandate put in place this week for 12 counties where the COVID-19 outbreak is most serious in Ohio.

“We really aren’t changing a whole lot because we have been encouraging people from the beginning and people are kind of 99 percent compliant,” said the Rev. Chris Worland, pastor of St. Albert the Great Catholic Church in Kettering. “We’re trying to give people spiritual opportunities and also trying to keep them safe. We really are just doing the best we can.”

He said the church continues live-streaming services, as it has for 15 years. Those who come to church services will find pews blocked off to maintain social distance. During communion congregants are given consecrated bread, but now only the presiding priest drinks the consecrated wine.

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“We believe that the fullness of Christ is in either the cup or the host,” Worland said.

Ohio's rules already require social distancing and face masks in workplaces. But the new face mask mandate applies to everyone, with a few exceptions, in Montgomery, Butler and 10 other counties where key indicators on COVID-19, including cases, symptoms, hospitalization and other factors, put people in those counties at high risk of infection.

At Grace United Methodist Church in Dayton, services are held outdoors and people must maintain social distancing, said Lisa Pelphrey, church administrator.

People either sit in chairs in the parking lot or inside their cars and listen to services transmitted over the radio, she said.

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Interim Pastor Ruth Hopkins of Harmony Creek Church in Kettering said in-person services have not resumed and she anticipates that when they do, masks will be required, along with social distancing.

She said the church follows guidelines from the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ, which has suggested reopening phases, including one designated as phase four when Ohio has had eight weeks of declines in new cases.

“We have a lot of people who are at risk and we didn’t want to reopen until we were in phase four,” Hopkins said.

The church has been holding services on the Zoom teleconferencing platform but does require masks at its child-care center and for anyone entering the building, she said.

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The Rev. Joey Turner, pastor of student ministries at Patterson Park Church in Beavercreek, said the Greene County church does not have to follow the state’s mask mandate for Montgomery County but since in-person services resumed, the church is following the advice of health experts and monitoring Gov. Mike DeWine’s comments.

“We strongly encourage masks , we have everyone social distanced, we have a cleaning team,” Turner said. “It seems like most people are wearing them.”

The counties currently under Level 3 state rules requiring facial coverings are Montgomery, Butler, Hamilton, Clermont, Franklin, Pickaway, Fairfield, Wood, Lorain, Cuyahoga, Summit and Trumbull.

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Among the requirement’s exceptions are persons with medical conditions that preclude wearing a mask, children under age 10, people engaged in certain athletic activity or eating and drinking, those who are officiants of a religious service and cases where the coverings are prohibited by law, industry standards or documented safety practices.

Even though church officiants are exempt, the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati has issued a requirement that priests and other officiants wear masks. The archdiocese had prohibited in-person church services from mid-March until May 25 and Mass was live streamed during that period. But now all parishes are holding in-person, socially distanced services, said Jennifer Schack, director of media relations for the archdiocese.

“We are overjoyed to be able to celebrate public Masses once again, but we remain conscious of the need to provide for the safety of our people as best we can. We have been in communication with our parishes about the new directive from the Ohio Department of Health, mandating masks in several Ohio counties,” Shack said. “In line with the guidance issued by the archdiocese for the resumption of public worship, regulations put forth by health authorities must be observed, and this will apply to the new directive mandating masks.”

By the numbers

62,856: Total COVID-19 cases in Ohio, including probable cases

3,032: Total COVID-19 deaths in Ohio, including probable deaths

8,701: COVID-19 hospitalizations in Ohio

2,161: COVID-19 ICU admissions in Ohio

Source: Ohio Department of Health

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