New Bedford mayor tightens restrictions on churches, industrial facilities

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WLNE) – New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell announced stricter reopening guidelines for the city Thursday.

Mitchell said the city will follow the guidelines from the state of Massachusetts around reopening the economy, with the exception of two areas. Industrial facilities will see tougher safety guidelines than the state’s released, and church attendance will be limited.

The mayor said since the city of New Bedford hasn’t yet seen a decline in cases, so it’s not safe to allow churches to reopen at 40% of capacity.

“We have many houses of worship that see services where attendance is north of 500 people, and sometimes close to 1000 people. Those crowds, even at 40% of those crowds, those would be too big,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said in his press conference Thursday. “The state included a facility cap that is equal to 40% of the permitted capacity of any given worship facility. That’s where we part ways with the state.”

Instead, churches and New Bedford will be limited to either 40% of capacity or up to 100 people, whichever is lower.

Joseph Britto, the pastor at Redeeming Family Church in New Bedford, said regardless of the tougher rules, he’s happy to reopen this weekend.

“We’ve been home, we’ve been restricted, and just not coming to church for a long time… it’s just tough. So, doing it on the broadcast, Facebook and YouTube is just not enough. We’re just happy and excited about being here Sunday.”

Britto said the church will utilize two nurses that are among their parishioners to do temperature checks at the door, seats will be spaced out six feet, and there will be an overflow room downstairs from the sanctuary where people can watch the service on a live stream.

Across the city at Immanuel Baptist Church, pastor David Reed said he’s not yet ready to open his doors.

“We closed our doors when there were a few hundred cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, now there are tens of thousands so it seems like it might be a good idea to protect our people.”

Reed said typically his parish sees around 30 parishioners, but since streaming online, those numbers have jumped to over 100, and people are tuning in from all over the world.

“We’re actually having a larger attendance now online then we were at the building,” said Reed.

He said he hasn’t yet decided when Immanuel Baptist will return to in-person worshiping, as it’s just too dangerous right now for his members.

“We have an older demographic and so very many at the church are in that age range where the governor said you best stay home. Never mind going out for anything, unless it’s an emergency. I’m afraid it might really be too soon for the safety of people to gather together in such numbers.”

Places of worship in Massachusetts can open as soon as Saturday. Click here for a list of restrictions.

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Categories: Coronavirus, New Bedford, News, Regional News