FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The Allen County Health Commissioner is prohibiting church gatherings with more than a total of 10 people, including those held in non-church venues, in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The order was issued Saturday to into effect Sunday, March 22 at 12:01 a.m.
It states that no gatherings with an “aggregate total of more than 10 individuals in a church building is permitted.”
Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan encouraged places of worship to utilize online webinars, Facebook or other social media platforms as a way to meet spiritual needs.
“While we understand people are still in need of spiritual guidance during these difficult times, we need to be sure everyone grasps the importance of social distancing and avoiding any non-essential gatherings,” said health commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan. “We need the whole community’s cooperation in slowing the spread of COVID-19 to a pace that allows our healthcare systems to provide essential medical care to the expected growing number patients who will contract the virus in addition to all other patients they serve on a regular basis.”
The order is effective until April 11 at 11:59 p.m. and is subject to change by McMahan. It does not affect child care and day care services operated from those facilities, the department said.
The department later sent out this letter from Dr. Deborah McMahan for added clarity:
Dear Church Leaders:
Pastor Roger Reece of Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County just made me aware of a possible miscommunication on my part. Due to the transmission of the COVID -19 virus in our community and the President and CDC’s guidance recommending people meet in groups of 10 or less, earlier today we ordered churches not to meet if they are unable to meet the less-than-10-person guidance. However, understanding faith is an essential part of most people’s lives especially during crises, we strongly encourage other ways to pastor to your parishioners. Online, webinars, Facebook or other social media platforms are all wonderful ways to meet the spiritual needs of our community and we encourage those methods. The only thing the order prohibits is having church services with more than 10 attendees present together. We realize the current Governor’s orders restrict these gatherings to no more than 50, but we felt we needed to work toward protecting our community from gatherings larger than 10 at this time. Please accept my apologies for any confusion and know we are counting on our faith leaders to provide the spiritual support this community will need to endure and get through this crisis. But like healthcare and everything else, it will likely need to be done differently than in normal times. I know it takes folks a bit of time to adjust to new things, but for a pandemic of this magnitude we need to act quickly and collectively if we are to slow the pace of transmission through our community to a level our healthcare systems can keep up with. You are an important part of this plan.
Deborah A. McMahan, MD Health Commissioner
WANE 15 also asked the department if they consulted with lawyers to make the order. We received this statement via email:
Yes, the county lawyer ensured the health commissioner is well within the law to make the order, per the Indiana Code mentioned in the full order. Indiana Code Section 16-20-1-24, and Section 16-41-9-1.6: “Local health officers may order schools and churches closed and forbid public gatherings when considered necessary to prevent and stop epidemics.”
Megan Hubartt/Director of Communications, Allen County Department of Health
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