Arkansas has issued new guidelines for houses of worship to curb a new increase of COVID-19 cases, requiring that worshipers wear face masks at all times during worship.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during a press conference on Tuesday that congregants must wear masks at all times during worship, especially when singing, which health experts warn is an act more likely spread the coronavirus.
The one exception to Hutchinson’s rule is for worship attendees who for medical reasons cannot wear a face mask.
Other regulations, such as the requirement that congregants keep at least six apart, apply to all.
“The number of cases we’ve seen across Arkansas that come from places of worship has increased,” stated Hutchinson, adding that doesn’t mean that worshipers “aren’t careful.”
“It just simply means that when you have congregants together, there is a risk associated with it. The vast majority of our places of worship are taking precautions and doing a very good job. But there is that risk.”
The governor also shared revised guidelines to be posted on the Department of Health website.
“It’s possible to worship safely in person if ADH guidelines for places of worship are followed,” a PowerPoint slide of the guideline shared by the governor’s office reads. “Masks need to be worn at all times by congregants, except those who are exempt under ADH guidelines. Masks are the biggest factor that contributes to safe worship.”
On Monday, the Arkansas Department of Health reported 945 new coronavirus cases in the state, bringing the total statewide to 12,488 active cases. According to the data, around 790 people are hospitalized, including 116 patients on ventilators.
For the newly announced cases, the highest areas of infection were in the counties of Pulaski (128 new cases), Washington (79), Independence (75), Sebastian (56) and Benton (49).
The Health Department also reported that since the pandemic began, Arkansas has had over 122,000 cases, nearly 100,000 recoveries and 2,108 confirmed deaths.
In March, Greers Ferry First Assembly in Cleburne County garnered headlines when nearly 40 of their members became infected with COVID-19 after the church held a multiday children’s ministry event.
Pastor Mark Palenske explained in a statement at the time that the event did not violate local restrictions since the event occurred “before there was even a confirmed case in Arkansas.”
“We canceled services prior to anyone in our church testing positive, and prior to any local, state or national directive,” said Palenske.
“We cherished the wise council of local medical professionals and their quick and decisive actions more than likely have kept the effects of this virus from going even farther than it has.”
According to a study released in September by the journal Indoor Air, singing without a face mask on can increase the likelihood of spreading COVID-19 due to the release of tiny airborne particles called aerosols.
The study looked at how one person with mild coronavirus symptoms attended a 2.5-hours-long choir performance and 50 people who attended the rehearsal later tested positive and two died.
"This study documents in great detail that the only plausible explanation for this super-spreading event was transmission by aerosols," said lead author Shelly Miller of the University of Colorado Boulder.
"Shared air is important because you can be inhaling what someone else exhaled even if they are far away from you."