LANE COUNTY, Ore. -- As cases continue to surge in Lane County, we're seeing more outbreaks within faith-based organizations. This causes concern not only for health officials but for church leaders who are struggling to keep their places of worship safe.
As of Thursday, Lane County is monitoring a total of 75 active COVID-19 outbreaks with 525 cases coming from them.
Many community members are wondering if churches should stay open despite being in Phase Two.
Joe Baumgarten is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church. He believes holding services can be done safely.
"Masks are required anytime we are in the building,” Baumgarten said. We use a lot of hand sanitzer. It can be done. For those still trying to figure it out, it’s best to take it as simple as you can."
KEZI spoke to Baumgarten back in May when Lane County was in Phase 1 of reopening.
With growing concerns as cases continue to grow, others are rethinking their plans.
"The thing is to really evaluate what space you have and what are the safe ways to use the space that you have,” Baumgarten said. We have a lot of space, so we are able to do a lot of different things and still maintain cleanliness and hygiene."
But health officials are on high alert.
“The message there really is for those faith leaders and individuals who are practicing to make sure if you’re going to do that and do that in a congregate setting that you observe the distancing,” Lane County Public Health spokesman Jason Davis said. “We’re asking you to observe that six feet or more. Please wear masks anytime that you are around anyone outside of your household. That will really help us in curving some of those outbreaks.”
At Grace Lutheran Church, services are by appointment only and last for about 25 minutes. There is a limit of 15 people per service.
"We still have quite a few of our members who are in the high risk category and they're staying home,” Baumgarten said. “They're choosing to watch sermons online."
Services are streamed online for those who wish to attend from their own home, and Baumgarten checks in with them over the phone.
As part of Lane County being added to Governor Kate Brown's watch list, a "faith liaison" from the Oregon Health Authority will be helping monitor faith-based groups.
"I really hope that they leave here feeling encouraged and feeling hopeful that at some point we are going to get to adjusting to life how it is in whatever way that looks like,” Baumgarten said. “Also, that they are being cared for and that they feel that God is with them."