HOUSTON – Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Mayor’s Health Equity Response (H.E.R.) Task Force announced guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as sanctuaries and faith-based organizations reopen their doors for religious services.The Mayor was joined by Dr. Irishea Hilliard of New Light Church and Reverend Rodrigo Vargas of Union Houston. Both are members of the H.E.R Task Force’s Faith and Community Leaders Subcommittee, a group of religious leaders who provided input and recommendations for creating the guidelines.
The task force strongly encouraged limiting the occupancy of facilities at 25% capacity and offering members the option to pre-register.
“Many Houstonians are people of faith and want to return to in-person worship services. The recommendations give people a road map on how to move forward without risking their health and safety,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.
The H.E.R. Task Force reviewed three critical questions; How do we protect congregants? How do we assure communities we are doing all we can to protect them? And, how do we minimize the risk of transmission?
“As a faith leader, I closed my house of worship services and went back to virtual services. I wanted to make certain my parishioners and members were safe,” said Pastor Irishea Hilliard.
Additionally, the guidelines recommend that employees and members of a house of worship avoid touching and sharing audiovisual equipment such as microphones, instruments, and the removal of hymnals, pens, and offering envelopes.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be on the task force,” said Pastor Rodrigo Vargas. “I thank the Mayor and others for their leadership. I appreciate the opportunity to invest our time, innovation, and faith, into making our city safe, while at the same time respecting our worship centers.”
“Since the pandemic began, our number one priority has been to keep Houstonians safe,” said Shannon Buggs, Director of the City of Houston Complete Communities Initiatives, and head of the Health Equity Response (H.E.R.) Task Force leader. “Early on, the Mayor’s Health Equity Response (H.E.R.) Task Force recognized places of worship as foundational elements in our society. I appreciate and applaud the diligence of the Faith & Community Leaders Sub-Committee for bringing together faith and civic leaders who spent several months discussing and developing the sanctuary reopening guidelines for the protection of all Houstonians.”
The set of guidelines also include the use of clear signage in parking lots, halls, and entrances, the availability of hand sanitizing stations, and possible temperature checks.
The recommended guidelines for reopening sanctuaries and faith-based organizations can be found on https://www.houstontx.gov/Best-Practices-Sanctuaries-Faith-Based-Organizations.pdf
“I was proud to witness how the spiritual leaders of our community, regardless of their beliefs, joined forces in providing their feedback to create such a comprehensive set of recommendations,” said Janice Weaver, Director of Community Relations, who coordinated the efforts of the Faith and Community Leaders Sub-Committee.