Gov. Bill Lee's office released guidance Friday afternoon for reopening Tennessee's houses of worship as the state begins the process of lifting its stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus.

"As we look to reopen our economy in a safe fashion, the decision on in-person gatherings will be up to each individual faith community," reads a statement from the governor. "We're confident in their ability to determine the proper time and how to incorporate these guidelines to worship in a way that protects the health of their congregation."

The guidelines, which were compiled by the governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, include: 

— A phased approach to resuming in-person gatherings is recommended. Vulnerable populations (everyone 65 years and older, people with disabilities, people with serious respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, people who are immunocompromised, and others) and children's activities/nursery programs should not gather in person until a later time.

— Consider solutions to minimize close personal contact that may be part of your services, such as handshakes or sharing food and drink.

— As the phased approach begins, limit the size of attendance in your sanctuary and other confined spaces to create seating arrangements that provide at least 6 feet  between families. It is recommended not to exceed 50% of maximum capacity of the room and should enable full compliance with CDC recommendations for social distancing and hygiene.  

— Wear face coverings.

— Encourage members of the community to stay at home if they are symptomatic, have a fever, have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, or have traveled internationally or to a domestic hot spot in the past two weeks.

— If a member of the congregation has tested positive for COVID-19, consult CDC guidelines and local health department recommendations to determine whether in-person gatherings should cease immediately, the building should close for additional cleaning, or other protocol changes are required.


Guidance on reopening houses of worship


The guidance comes after much debate over which businesses and activities would be allowed to resume and when.

On Thursday, a Chattanooga church that brought a lawsuit against the city alleging First Amendment violations dropped its complaint after Mayor Andy Berke reversed his decision to ban drive-in church services.

Metropolitan Tabernacle Church filed its suit against the mayor on April 16, saying his stay-at-home order banning drive-in church services during the COVID-19 pandemic, violated its constitutional right to assemble and worship.

Days after the lawsuit was announced, Berke reversed his decision.