On December 7, Colorado changed its list of “critical services” as defined by the pandemic to include “houses of worship,” eliminating the cap on the number of people who can attend religious services in person. As a result, local churches are wasting no time packing people back in to in-person services at the start of the new year. The move to lift the cap on church attendance came after the U.S. Supreme Court’s new conservative majority ruled against the State of New York in a lawsuit in which the governor sought to limit in-person attendance at religious services to reduce the spread of the deadly coronavirus pandemic. It also comes just as a new, more communicable strain of Corona virus was discovered in the state, at a time when the state is lifting some restrictions on businesses and as School District 51 announced a return to in-person learning this week — a potent combination that could greatly increase the spread of the deadly virus.
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, writing for himself, ruled with the minority in the 5-4 decision, saying “It is a significant matter to override determinations made by public health officials concerning what is necessary for public safety in the midst of a deadly pandemic.”
A look at the parking lots of a handful of churches in Grand Junction on Sunday morning, Jan. 3 shows them filled with cars and people, a few of them with masks on while outside the churches, but mostly without.
The uptick in in-person attendance at religious services locally comes after Colorado announced December 29 that the new, more contagious strain of Coronavirus first found in the United Kingdom was confirmed to be in Colorado. The appearance of the more communicable strain combined with a statewide uptick in in-person attendance at church services is likely to cause yet another spike in Covid-19 deaths, coming very shortly after spikes we’ve already experienced after people gathered against public health advice for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year.
It also comes at a time when, even though cases and deaths have decreased slightly locally, Mesa County is also close to maxing out the number of ICU beds available to treat people who become extremely ill with Covid-19.