Greene County Breaks With Springfield on Religious Gathering Restrictions

Published May 7, 2020 at 4:52 p.m.; Updated May 7, 2020 at 5:50 p.m.

The Greene County Commission voted late Thursday to approve a new set of changes to their Civil Emergency Order that lines up with the city of Springfield in all areas except one: religious gatherings.

The Commission, after resuming an earlier session that had been placed into recess, adopted a set of rules more open than the city’s restriction limiting religious gatherings to no more than 25 people. The County’s order will not place a limit on gatherings, whether inside or outside, beyond the social distancing requirements recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

‘We are pleased to be able to continue to look at opening in phases and we do so with the guidance and counsel of many leaders, including those from the health department and local health systems,” Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon said in a statement. “As we open activities, we still strongly urge individuals and businesses to do so while following the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control.”

However, the Commission is hoping churches choose to keep their current paths.

“Due to the highly contagious nature of this disease, it is strongly urged [religious organizations] utilize drive-in services or virtual services,” the Commission wrote in their order.

The CDC recommendations the Commission instructs houses of worship to use include:

  • Screening of all staff before coming into the church for symptoms.
  • Require staff to stay home if they are sick or if they report with a symptom.
  • Leave time between the end of any in-person service and the beginning of another in-person service for cleaning in accordance with the CDC’s cleaning disinfection guidelines.
  • Ensure physical distancing requirements of six (6) feet are met at all times.
  • Keep a minimum of two empty seats between parties in any row except for members of the same household.
  • Have at least one empty row between occupied rows.

The Commission made the decision in a session that included Springfield-Greene County Health Department director Clay Goddard, who answered questions from the Commission regarding the considered action.

Goddard noted to the Commission that the health department has been working on a plan for gatherings like churches that would include an occupancy limit for the next phase of reopening beyond the action taken by the city of Springfield. While Goddard didn’t explicitly tell the Commission not to take their desired action, he did express reservations.

“I think it’s a little soon,” Goddard said. “We just opened this up on Monday. I don’t think anybody knows what’s coming. But we seem to be a little bit of an outlier here in southwest Missouri, so if this is the path you want to travel, it’s important to have [the CDC recommendations] out there.”

“I’m looking at it from a unique lens,” Goddard continued. “It’ll be our staff…that will be doing case contacts and disease management if things go bad. I have no reason to believe they will, but I just don’t know what the impact is going to be in the next several weeks from reopening the state.”

Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon said their plan was not intended to dismiss concerns about the virus.

“I think we’re in a very good spot,” Dixon said. “I don’t want to jeopardize that either. It’s just that as we’re looking at the health risk, we have to look at the economic risk, and now we’re trying to factor in the potential legal risks, after seeking out some advice [from county legal counsel.]”

Commissioner John Russell noted in the discussion that the County has not had more than one diagnosis of COVID-19 per day since April 14, and that recent testing conducted on asymptomatic essential workers found none of them infected with the novel coronavirus.

The Commission debated holding their order until a Tuesday vote to talk with the city to see if they would be interested in joining Greene County in expanding the order; however, the Commissioners did not want to have county businesses facing stronger restrictions through the weekend than the city order which went into effect today.

The Commission offices are closed Friday for Truman Day, and Sunshine Law posting requirements would have meant the Commission couldn’t vote on the measure until late Monday or in Tuesday morning’s Commission Briefing.

Here is the updated county order:


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