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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and State Health Commissioner Kris Box issued guidance for places of worship in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 during Thursday’s press conference.

Holcomb recounted Bible verses and mentioned Jewish passover during the press conference, and opened by saying there is no more spiritually important week for many believers.

“During this time of uncertainty, faith is more important than ever, and I am deeply grateful to our religious leaders for their efforts to find safe and creative ways to serve their communities,” Gov. Holcomb said.

He emphasized that what is important is the church body, not the building.

“The purpose of this guidance is not to restrict religious liberty, but to save lives during these extraordinary times. I look forward to the day where we can once again worship side-by-side without the threat of spreading coronavirus,” he added.

The governor said, while mentioning Jewish Passover, that it is time to serve your neighbors by providing food and protection, which includes the protection of their lives.

As a slide showed that read “Guidance for Places of Worship,” Holcomb explained he loves seeing worshippers at home using a live streaming service, but wants everyone to follow social distancing guidelines if otherwise.

Meaning, if worshippers drive to a church parking lot, then they must stay inside their vehicle. He explained that worship services are not a tailgate and there should be no physical interaction. Those inside a vehicle should only be people from a single household. He added that it is preferred that no communion is handed out, but if it is, then it has to be packaged.

“Get the word, and then get home,” Holcomb said.

State health and other officials provided an update on the number of coronavirus deaths and unemployment benefit claims at the daily press conference.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box explained that 42 new deaths were reported in the last 24 hours, including some numbers that reach back to March. Box emphasized the importance of healthcare facilities reporting these deaths to the State Health Department.

She reminded Hoosiers that we have not reached the peak of coronavirus deaths in our state, and although today’s number is lower that what we’ve seen recently, this does not mean we are out of the woods.

Box said we are nowhere near being through our surge, so we need to continue to stay home and take precautions.

Other updates included a strike team collected 500 specimens to be tested yesterday and the first drive through clinic in Lake County was set up and tested 200 first responders.

She also addressed some continued confusion about PPE by saying the state has distributed everything they received from the stockpile. Box said Indiana has been able to meet the needs of everyone, but facilities need to continue to use PPE conservatively.

Commissioner of Indiana Department of Workforce Development Fred Payne reported the second largest number of unemployment claims in Indiana history.

He said the state is also tracking a large number of payments, more than 175,000 paid out so far in the month of April compared to 71,000 for the entire month in 2019.

Gov. Holcomb’s Executive Order 20-18 states all public and private gatherings, including religious and spiritual, should follow CDC guidance, which restricts gatherings to ten or less people.

To continue safely serving their communities, faith institutions are directed as follows:

  • Church buildings and other physical locations for worship should be closed.
  • Livestream or other virtual services are best. The minimum number of necessary personnel should be used at all times for any services. Staff and volunteers who are not speaking should wear masks.
  • Drive-in services may be conducted only under these conditions: Attendees must be inside vehicles at all times. Attendees should not interact physically with clergy, staff or participants in other vehicles. Vehicles should contain only members of a single household. Do not bring your neighbors or others outside of your household. Cars must be spaced the equivalent of every other parking spot or approximately 9 feet apart. No one may exit a vehicle at any time. Portable bathrooms are not allowed on the premises and no church facilities may be used by attendees. It is preferred that no communion be distributed. In instances when communion is distributed, only prepackaged communion may be used and must be prepared and distributed in a manner that meets food safety standards.
  • The following individuals who are vulnerable and at higher risk for illness should not attend: Persons who are 65 years and older. Those who have severe underlying medical conditions, like heart or lung disease or diabetes. Individuals who are sick.
  • To read guidance for the faith community provided by the DC, click here.