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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.

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Guidance on reopening houses of worship

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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.

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