UTICA, N.Y. ---Governor Cuomo announced that churches can reopen as part of phase 2 with 25% capacity. The decision came as a surprise to many church officials across the area. Father Joe Salerno, Pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica, was expecting the decision to come soon, but not as soon as it did. Salerno said he was "delightfully surprised."
"I was hoping the announcement would be made in the relatively near future, but I didn't anticipate that it would be today or be given immediate permission," said Salerno.
The Governor in his briefing urged people to be smart. The state is leaving how churches carry out the guidelines up to the local dioceses. The Syracuse Diocese is requiring all churches to submit a plan on how they're reopening before allowing parishioners to be welcomed back.
Father Joe tells NEWSChannel 2 their plan was emailed to the diocese Wednesday and is awaiting approval. Inside of that plan, Father Joe said includes a number of guidelines that include mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing, and sanitizing before and after each service and more.
Salerno said the church has also purchased a sanitizing machine that Salerno said would sanitize the entire church in under an hour.
"We still have to keep a safe distance, observe many of the directives both of the diocese and the state. But at least we will be able to gather with 150 to 200 people at a time. Should that many people desire to come to worship," said Salerno.
Because the church will now only be able to accommodate 25% of its capacity, Salerno said that parishioners will now need to register for each service they wish to be apart of. Salerno said this will be done through their Facebook page. Salerno said if you do not have access to the page in any way, the church has set up a phone number for you to call for assistance. That number is (315)-404-8057.
NEWSChannel 2 spoke to Danielle Cummings of the Syracuse Diocese that said they're methodically trying to bring churches back to a sense of normalcy safely. But said bringing the churches back to complete normalcy may not be possible.
"People are committed to the safeguards, one of the greatest challenges for all of us is to say that we all may go back to normal. We may never go back to normal. Some changes that are going to be made just makes sense so people can stay healthy," said Cummings.
Father Joe expects to welcome back parishioners within the next couple of weeks. Salerno said the announcement will come on their Facebook page and through the media.