Wilkes County churches are being urged to not have in-person worship services even though current restrictions in place due to the coronavirus allow gatherings of around 10 people.

In press releases issued Thursday afternoon, the Wilkes County Health Department and Wilkes Sheriff’s Office encouraged churches to consider alternatives to in-person gatherings for worship services.

The Wilkes Health Department “wants to encourage religious organizations to consider alternative means for their congregations” other than in-person gatherings, stated its press release.

“Consider options like streaming services, connecting by phone or using other technologies that support social distancing,” the release said.

“While we understand faith based gatherings are an essential part of our community, especially right now at Easter, we are making this recommendation to ensure the health and safety of our community. The sole responsibility is also not on the churches, we are also recommending that individuals stay at home during this time,” stated the health department release.

The sheriff’s office press release stated that because Wilkes is still in the upturn of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sheriff’s office, Wilkes Health Department and Eddie Settle, chairman of the Wilkes County commissioners believe people should stay home rather than attend any sort of in-person worship services.

The sheriff’s office press release said the N.C. Sheriff’s Association asked Gov. Roy Cooper if “drive-in” church services are allowed under the governor’s executive order limiting the number of people at mass gatherings to 10 people.

The press release said that the way the drive-in church services have been explained, they consist of church members in individual vehicles and with the windows down and the pastor standing outside giving the sermon via a speaker. Cooper was asked this because churches want to know if “drive-in” worship services are allowed under his order, the release stated.

The release said Cooper’s reply was that he trusted law enforcement's judgment in directing people to abide by local and state health department guidance. It also said Cooper stated that these gatherings appear to be acceptable as long as individuals remain in their vehicles and avoid contact.

The sheriff’s office release said that since Cooper “left the decision in the hands of law enforcement with the direction of state and local health departments to approve or disapprove this matter, we recommend that you stay home.”

The release said the sheriff’s office doesn’t want any part of contributing to the spread of the coronavirus and urged using guidance recommended by the CDC and local and state health officials.

The health department press release noted that under Cooper’s stay at home order, religious entities are considered an essential operation but are still subject to not consisting of more than 10 people in a single room or single space at the same time, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, or any other confined indoor or outdoor space.

The order also requires that people physically stay at least six feet apart from others.

It also said, the health department “is recommending that religious organizations follow the state or local executive order, whichever is more restrictive.” Under a state of emergency order signed by the mayors of Wilkesboro, North Wilkesboro and Ronda, mass gatherings within the towns can’t consist of 10 or more people.

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