Capacity Restrictions on Churches Lifted; Mask Mandate Lifted for Fully-Vaccinated

Recent executive actions have provided New Yorkers with welcome relief from certain COVID-19 mandates.

First, the state’s attendance restriction on churches and other houses of worship in the State of New York based on percentage of maximum occupancy has been lifted effective May 19, 2021.

Prior to May 19, churches were directed to limit in-person worship services to 50% of building capacity. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 202.108 lifted that capacity restriction. Executive Order No. 202.108 includes the following language:

The directives contained in Executive Orders 202.38, 202.96, 202.97, 202.106  that each limited capacity at houses of worships [sic], places of public amusement, whether indoors or outdoors, and indoor dining and food services in New York City and in areas outside of New York City, respectively, are hereby further extended and modified to provide that, effective May 19, 2021, there shall no longer be capacity limits based on percentage of maximum occupancy on such entities, subject to adherence to Department of Health guidance.

Executive Order No. 202.108 also amended the requirement that New Yorkers over two years of age wear masks in public places. Effective May 19, 2021, the state no longer requires fully-vaccinated New Yorkers to wear masks in indoor public settings such as churches. Executive Order No. 202.108 includes the following language:

The directive contained in Executive Order 202.17, as extended and modified by Executive Order 202.105, that required any individual over the age of two to cover their nose or mouth with a mask or cloth face-covering when in a public place, is hereby extended and modified only insofar as to no longer require, effective May 19, 2021, individuals who are fully vaccinated to cover their noses or mouths with a mask or cloth face-covering while indoors except in certain settings as prescribed in Department of Health guidance, which aligns with guidance published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Individual churches are, of course, free to take precautions that go beyond the state’s requirements.  

On May 17, 2021, Gov. Cuomo announced that effective May 19, the State of New York would adopt the CDC’s “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People” in most businesses and public settings. The state has issued a guidance document regarding the CDC recommendations. Like many of the state’s other communications regarding COVID-19, the state’s guidance document treats churches as an afterthought. The main problem with the document is that it fails to make clear whether or not it is intended to apply to houses of worship. Clarification from the Governor’s office on this point would be helpful.