State releases new guidelines for Maine churches and accelerates opening to May 29

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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Around 5:50 p.m. Friday afternoon, the state released updated reopening guidelines for Maine churches that will take effect May 29.

We're told under the new guidelines, services of up to 50 people will be allowed.

Churches must communicate with churchgoers about the new protocols and stress the importance of face coverings, physical distancing and hygiene.

Cloth face coverings must be worn by all attendees when physical distancing is difficult to maintain, such as when coming and going, except for children under the age of 2.

Outdoor services are encouraged. Both indoor and outdoor religious gatherings require maintaining physical distancing guidelines, the state said.

People at high risk for coronavirus are still encouraged to use online or other remote services.

Earlier Friday President Trump announced he's deeming houses of worship "essential."

He's calling on governors to allow for their reopening this weekend.

He made the announcement just before the CDC briefing Friday afternoon.

Under Governor Mills reopening plan, places of worship were originally set to open in phase 2 on June 1st but will now be allowed to reopen a few days earlier.

An Orrington church has sued the governor over the state's ban on in-person worship services.

The president says that if governors don't abide by his request, he will "override" them, though it's unclear what authority he has to do so.

Governor Mills responded at the CDC briefing Friday afternoon saying, "I have no idea what President Trump said about religion or religious gatherings. We've redrafted some protocols that should go up today regarding inside worshiping in those houses of worship if you would choose to be inside, retaining the outside, the drive-in, car-based worship service as another form of worship as well."

We're told the new guidelines also say members of the same household may sit together without social distancing between each other. Seating between households must be at least 6 feet apart, according to the guidelines.

Churches are encouraged to use alternating rows or pews for seating.

Choirs and communal singing are strongly discouraged due to the risk of potentially spreading the virus.

Post-service refreshments, meals and fellowship activities are not recommended.

Churches are also encouraged to modify communal rituals like taking communion or passing of the peace.

All common spaces must be cleaned and disinfected between multiple session services.