OMAHA, Nebraska — Nebraska churches are taking a cautious approach to resuming worship services even though the state will allow them to gather their members again starting next month.
Father Michael McCabe of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lincoln said he’s looking forward to seeing his congregation again on Sunday mornings, but he’s not sure exactly when that will happen. Gov. Pete Ricketts has announced plans to begin easing restrictions in the state starting May 4, including allowing churches to reopen if they take certain precautions.
The governor’s office said churches will need to refrain from passing items between worshipers and people from different households will have to sit 6 feet apart.
For now, McCabe’s church will continue to worship online.
“Health comes first at this point in time,” McCabe said.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha said services will be allowed again beginning May 4, but the archbishop is leaving the reopening decision up to pastors and their parish councils.
“I am grateful that soon we will be able to welcome parishioners back to our churches for Mass,” Archbishop George Lucas said. “We will work within the necessary restrictions for everyone’s safety.”
At Christ Community Church in west Omaha, the Rev. Mark Ashton said the church hasn’t decided when it will start having services in its worship center again, but it won’t rush to restart services partly because it has a strong online option. The church has about 3,000 members, and its worship center holds about 1,600.
“If we were to do appropriate social distancing, really we’re talking more like about 400 or 500 would be able to fit in there,” Ashton said. “So we’re asking some strategic questions about people’s worship experience and then we would have to expand the number of services to be able to accommodate a similar number of people.”
Nebraska health officials said the number of coronavirus cases in the state increased by 311 this weekend to at least 2,732 cases. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.
Three additional deaths were also reported in Nebraska on Saturday, so the total of deaths rose to 53.
Hall County, which is home to Grand Island, continues to lead the state in COVID-19 cases with 797. The much more populous Douglas County, which includes the state’s largest city of Omaha, has 382 cases.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.