PASADENA — A Maryland church was issued a compliance warning last month from a local government health department for allegedly not following state COVID-19 orders related to masks and social distancing.
The Community United Methodist Church was issued the warning by the Anne Arundel County Department of Health after it received a complaint alleging the pastor and church members were not wearing face coverings and members of the congregation were taking part in handshakes, high fives and fist bumps.
A representative from the Maryland church said a government health inspector issued a warning and promised a follow up visit to check on compliance with state government COVID-19 orders.
Elin Jones, public information director for the Anne Arundel County Department of Health, said an inspector was dispatched to the church after her agency received a complaint on Nov. 16.
“The complaint stated that the pastor is not wearing a face covering and is not social distancing,” Jones said. “It stated the pastor does not require the employees or any of the congregation to wear the required face coverings. The pastor is constantly within 6 feet of people while not wearing a face covering. There was also handshaking, high-fives and fist bumps by the congregation. Complaints were made to the committee that oversees the church with no results.”
Jones said a county health inspector was dispatched to the church on Nov. 17 and the pastor was issued an Order of Immediate Compliance to obey state orders mandating the wearing of masks and social distancing inside public spaces and outdoors when social distancing cannot be assured. “The pastor opened the door without a face covering and met the inspector outside the house within six feet of the inspector,” Jones said.
Another government inspection was conducted at the church on Nov. 20 and the Methodist church was found to be in compliance and complaint case has been closed, Jones said.
The Pasadena church has previously conducted some services outdoors to abide by state COVID orders earlier this year.
The Maryland church sits at a contentious intersection between COVID-19 public health orders and the First Amendment’s guarantees of the free exercise of religion.
COVID-19 orders — including in Maryland and other states — have restricted capacities at churches and religious services aimed at curbing the virus.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last month against restrictions imposed by the state of New York on how many people can attend religious services. That case hinged on the state restricting church and other religious services but not other certain business activities.
The court previously ruled in favor of government restrictions on church services in Nevada. The difference in the rulings stemmed from Justice Amy Coney Barrett succeeding late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the court. Barrett, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, sided with the court’s four other conservatives in the New York ruling.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has called for more enforcement of the state’s COVID orders. He dispatched Maryland State Police troopers to do COVID compliance checks on more than 730 restaurants and bars before Thanksgiving.
Hogan has rolled back allowed capacities at restaurants, bars, shops and churches and has ordered restaurants and bars to close at 10 p.m. as part of new orders aimed at the recent rise in reported COVID cases and hospitalizations.
The state police have also set up their own hotline for residents to call in complaints about neighbors and businesses who are resisting government COVID mandates.
Locally, the Talbot County Health Department reported 10 new COVID cases on Wednesday, Dec. 2. There are 75 active cases in Talbot.
The Maryland Department of Health reported 43 new deaths attributed to COVID on Wednesday. That brings the statewide total to 4,558 deaths since the pandemic began in March. A one-year-old boy died from the virus Monday, according to Hogan and the health agency.
The number of current hospitalizations for the virus declined by five patients, according to the state health agency. There are currently 1,578 patients hospitalized statewide for COVID, according to MDH.
Hogan and state health officials are worried about rising hospitalizations for the virus straining hospitals and staff.
The governor has ordered hospitals statewide to submit “patient surge” plans outlining how they will potentially free up more beds.