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Los Angeles – California churches can resume in-person services but worshippers will be limited to 100 people and they should wear masks, avoid sharing prayer books and skip the collection plate under state guidelines released Monday.

The California Department of Public Health released a framework under which county health departments can approve the reopening of churches, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship that have mostly shuttered their doors since Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March stay-at-home order designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The guidelines also urge houses of worship to avoid large gatherings for holidays, weddings and funerals and warn that activities such as singing or group recitation – which are intrinsic to many faith gatherings – “negate” the safety benefits of social distancing.

Worshippers have been eagerly awaiting their turn after Newsom began relaxing constraints on stores and other secular outlets as part of a four-phase plan to reopen California’s economy, saying progress is being made in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Some 47 of 58 counties have received permission to move deeper into the reopening by meeting state standards for controlling the virus. The state on Monday cleared the way for in-store shopping to resume statewide with social distancing restrictions, although counties get to make their own choices of whether to permit it.

Churches are included in the next phase of the reopening plan, which could come in the next few weeks.

But several thousand churches have vowed to defy the current stay-at-home order for May 31, which is Pentacost, a major holiday for many Christians.

As of Monday, California had at least 94,558 confirmed cases of COVID-19, more than 3,000 hospitalizations and 3,795 deaths.

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