City of AustinFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Some organizations moved to virtual gatherings prior to City/State orders.
Local communities of faith are continuing to adhere to Austin-Travis County public health advice with ongoing suspensions of religious gatherings in churches, congregations, and other places of faith as the community fights the spread of COVID-19.
Last week, the Texas Governor issued an Executive Order that superseded Austin-Travis County Stay Home-Work Safe Orders and effectively loosened local restrictions on gatherings for religious worship by reclassifying such activity as “essential”, in cases where religious services cannot be conducted from home or through remote services. The State Order also expanded the scope of permitted commercial and private activities to include all construction work.
In Austin-Travis County, where all gatherings had been prohibited since March 24 to minimize transmission of COVID-19, authorities responded with updated guidance to ensure its Stay Home-Work Safe Orders fell in line with the new statewide rules. Those considered “essential” under the new State Order must still observe the physical distancing and other requirements – including for buildings – described in the local Stay Home-Work Safe Order.
“While we must abide by the Governor’s Order reclassifying mass in-person religious gatherings as essential, we are also reassured and grateful to see a strong level of support among the Austin faith community for staying home and staying safe, especially this time of year,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority. “We continue to strongly recommend refraining from hosting or attending any gatherings that would only risk increasing the spread of this deadly disease inside of the congregation.”
Dr. Escott added that it was still important to support these organizations that also supported the community.
Several religious organizations and groups of different faiths in the Austin community have announced online they have no plans to reinstate in-person religious gatherings in response to the State Order. Instead, many are continuing to offer remote services via online live streaming and even a prayer hotline. They include a number of Churches preparing for this weekend’s Easter Sunday activities. Meanwhile, Shalom Austin, the convener of Judaism in Central Texas, is encouraging participation in a Virtual Passover to mark one of the most sacred Jewish holidays, between April 8 and 16.
“As we all work together, faith-based organizations have an important role in slowing the spread of COVID-19, especially among high-risk populations,” said Deborah Duncan of Austin Public Health’s COVID-19 Faith-Based Task Force. “Austin faith communities have taken the lead in encouraging others to stay home and refraining from hosting any gatherings that would only risk increasing the spread of this deadly disease. We thank them for their continued support. Remember your health is our community wealth. Please stay at home.”
Example of actions taken by some faith groups to keep the community safe
- Austin Disaster Relief Network, a network of 190 live-streamed Austin churches, has launched a citywide Prayer Hotline to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of greater Austin citizens during the COVID-19 crisis.
- Austin Hindu Temple has canceled large gathering events and is live streaming ceremonies.
- Buddhist Xiang Yun Temple, IBPS Austin, is closed and is broadcasting its weekly Sunday service live through YouTube.
- Catholic Diocese of Austin has suspended all public masses and all liturgies will be livestreamed on the St. Mary Cathedral Facebook page.
- Islamic Center of Greater Austin has suspended congregational prayers, programs, and activities.
- North Austin Muslim Community Center has suspended congregational prayers.
- Shalom Austin, the convener of Judaism in Central Texas, has temporarily closed its doors in favor of virtual events.