Worshippers pray during the 40 Days for Life opening Mass at St. Rose of Lima Church in Northeast Portland Feb. 20. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Worshippers pray during the 40 Days for Life opening Mass at St. Rose of Lima Church in Northeast Portland Feb. 20. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on April 27 designated 15 counties as “extreme risk” for COVID-19 spread and imposed strict limits on businesses, restaurants, and social and faith gatherings. The restrictions are aimed at curbing a steep rise in cases and to preserve hospital capacity.

Todd Cooper, chair of the Archdiocese of Portland’s COVID-19 response team, sent a notice to western Oregon pastors and parish staff explaining how the designation affects worship and their work.

Brown set the capacity limit for indoor faith gatherings to a maximum of 25% occupancy or 100 people, whichever is smaller, in the highest risk category. However, the capacity limits are recommendations and not requirements.

Cooper said the protocols established by Archbishop Alexander Sample remain largely in place, even for “extreme risk” counties. He said Catholic churches “have proven over the last year that spread of the virus does not occur at Masses or faith gatherings where the protocols are followed.”

Cooper gave a recap of the archbishop’s directives, including that churches can accommodate people up to 50% of fire marshal capacity or the maximum number that can gather while keeping 6 feet of distance between households, whichever is lower. All who are 5 years old and up must wear face coverings in church, and cleaning protocols remain in place.

Parishes in counties designated “extreme risk” are required as nonprofit employers to facilitate remote and telework to the maximum extent possible.

“We are all weary of the restrictions, but hope is on the horizon,” said Cooper. “Health officials have observed that if vaccinations continue at the current rates, we should reach community immunity in Oregon by early July. Let’s continue to pray earnestly for an end to the pandemic.”

The state of emergency will last until June 28 unless it is rescinded or extended.