What we can learn from COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship in Maine and New Hampshire

By Kevin Pham | The Daily Signal

When the statewide lockdowns first began in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, most Americans accepted these measures in good faith as difficult, but necessary, sacrifices for the benefit of everyone.

At the time, the only thing anyone truly understood about the novel coronavirus that causes the disease was its breathtaking speed and seemingly unstoppable lethality in certain cities.

But lockdown measures were meant only to bridge us to a solution for dealing with COVID-19, and it should be the goal of lawmakers to return as much of American life back to normal as possible.

As we learn more, we should use every piece of information to loosen lockdown restrictions when possible, especially where it affects fundamental parts of our lives. Such restrictions include needlessly restrictive occupancy rules on places of worship that have been a mainstay of mitigation measures throughout the country.

Solid information about COVID-19 is difficult to come by and policy implications from one place is often difficult to generalize to another, which makes it difficult to judge their effectiveness or utility. When any clear information presents itself, policymakers should take advantage of it.

Public domain

Both states relaxed occupancy restrictions on places of worship. But Maine went from a 10-person maximum to a 50-person maximum, and New Hampshire went from a 10-person maximum to a maximum of 50% capacity.

Maine and New Hampshire have different sets of COVID-19 measures, but because they are demographically and geographically similar states, they present an effective natural experiment.

Both Maine and New Hampshire currently are experiencing consistently low or declining numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and both states consistently have remained well below the national averages in both absolute and per capita terms.

By June, both states also relaxed occupancy restrictions on places of worship. But Maine went from a 10-person maximum to a 50-person maximum, and New Hampshire went from a 10-person maximum to a maximum of 50% capacity.

One month later, neither state faces concerning rises in COVID-19 numbers the way several other states have.

That being the case, what reason does Maine have in maintaining such tight occupancy restrictions on places of worship? Indeed, what was the reasoning behind such an arbitrary number as 50 persons?

A small chapel may be filled beyond capacity with fewer than 50 persons, but the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, Maine, can seat 900 congregants. Such a large space certainly should be safe with a few more churchgoers than 50, which is only 5.5% of the 900-seat capacity.

Limited occupancy is not the only measure that places of worship will follow, since other guidelines govern all institutions and establishments, such as minimum requirements for spacing between persons, employment requirements, and promotion of good health practices.

Many of these additional requirements in New Hampshire are somewhat subjective in implementation, such as the requirement to promote mask wearing or the recommendation that places of worship have more services to reduce attendance at any one service.

But this is no reason for concern. After all, who cares more for the parishioners, the state’s governor or the pastor?

Skeptics might dismiss the return to church as an unnecessary ritual that can be set aside for a few months longer, but already, these restrictions have resulted in some of the cruelest human outcomes.

The same lockdown measures meant to curb the spread of the disease also forced us to leave loved ones to die alone in hospitals and, when the time came to mourn their loss, families had to choose who could attend the services lest they run afoul of occupancy or crowd-size regulations.

This is not hypothetical.

Restrictions implemented in the name of disease prevention may at times be deemed necessary; however, lawmakers must never forget that the parts of our lives that make us feel normal are not mere luxuries, but are the very things that make us human.

If governments decide to restrict our lives and our foundational freedoms, in this case that of religious expression, they must actively pursue the return of those rights or citizens must never be silent about them. Other debates about offices, salons, and schools often have been written off as the frivolous whims of a reckless public, but also are key parts of our lives and the lives of our children.

We accepted the many restrictions of lockdowns in good faith, but every rollback of our freedoms must be scrutinized for rationale and released at the soonest possible moment.

Maine has exactly zero reason to restrict church attendance to 50 persons. And now that we have learned much from the beginning of this pandemic, lifting that restriction should be only a start for the whole country.

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5 thoughts on “What we can learn from COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship in Maine and New Hampshire

  1. If I were given the option of attending my house of worship, I would respectfully decline and question the lack of sound judgement on the part of the folks who offered the option. Give them the benefit of a doubt. While they may mean well, they don’t seem to understand the concept of social distancing. It should come as no surprise that the folks in states with folks behaving themselves by wearing masks and avoiding crowds , live in states where the virus levels are the lowest. Get with the program folks!!!!

    • Total fallacy. New York and California have the strictest madates and their levels are higher. And let us not forget that the stats are padded, plus the real figures show that the Wuhan virus is no worse in fatalities than the common flu. Moreover, you seem to lack knowledge of God’s word, which commands that believers are not to forsake the assembling together of the church (Hebrews 10:25). It is better to obey God rather than men.

    • We never had a lot of this up here in the first place.
      Something has to be there to get going.
      Your field is not going to get taken over by dandelions if you don’t even have any dandelions there growing.
      Take a look at our lifestyle up here, eating well and exercising means we have good immune systems. It’s takes a lot of exercise just to live up here. People are healthy.

      It’s common for the flu to go right through nursing homes and the weakest die- it happens every year. But most people don’t work in nursing homes so they don’t know this.
      And it’s not just the flu, it’s norovirus, strep throat, stomach bugs, I saw head lice go through one time. Anything going on out here is going to wind up in nursing homes because the staff brings it in. And you need staff- so none of this is going to change.
      People that are laying in beds in a vegetative state are going to die from most anything that comes down the hallway and sickens them.
      So take the nursing home situation out of this and what is left? not much.

      There are only 20 people in the hospital in NH with this- out of 1.36 million people-plus tons of tourists. This is *Clearly* Nothing that the media is trying to tell us that it is– Or Else, we’d have a whole lot more than 20 people hospitalized.
      On Tuesday, only one single person in Massachusetts died from this- in a state of over 6 million people. I’d like to know what they are going to do when no one is dying or in the hospital with this- because we are getting to that point.

      You have an irrational fear. Look at actual data that the states put out and shut off the media you are listening too.

  2. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.

    Ephesians 6:12

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