By Rich McKay
(Reuters) - California retail with in-store shopping and places of worship that were closed under one of the most restrictive coronavirus containment rules in the United States may now open, health authorities announced on Monday.
The California Department of Public Health said that businesses and churches, synagogues, and mosques can reopen at 25 percent occupancy capacity, and with other restrictions.
The new rules come amid mounting pressure from churches, protests and even a push from President Donald Trump to reopen houses of worship and to get to get America back to work.
But under the new rules, business owners and religious leaders have to wait for approval from county health officials before they open their doors to the public.
Each building is limited to 25 percent occupancy but is capped at just 100 attendees for church services, regardless of how large the church is, according to an official release by the state's health department.
People must maintain a 6-foot social-distance from each other to help stop the virus that causes the deadly respiratory disease COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus.
The global pandemic has killed nearly 100,000 people in the United States alone.
Most houses of worship have been broadcasting religious services online on internet venues such as Facebook and Zoom.
Each store or place of worship must submit a plan to county health departments to describe what measures they are taking to comply with state rules before reopening, including specifics on cleaning and social distancing.
All staff and guests are recommended to wear protective face masks at all times. Church choirs are encouraged to perform only outdoors.
The new rules come three days after Trump announced places of worship as essential.
Trump also said he would override any governor's order to keep churches closed, and he said, "America, we need more prayer, not less."
Pastor Jon Duncan, who leads the church Cross Culture Christian Center, near Sacramento, California, welcomes the news, with some misgivings.
The church has been closed for about 9 weeks, and a lawsuit was filed against the governor stating that the congregation's First Amendment rights of free assembly and speech were violated.
"Although we welcome today's action our church and places of worship across California have suffered greatly because our leaders chose to marginalize and criminalize faith-based gatherings. If we are to remain free, we must never allow this to happen again."
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Grant McCool, Franklin Paul and Diane Craft)