What are the safety requirements for attending services?



Distance praying at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac.
Photo by David Stuck

If you’re planning to go to synagogue for Rosh Hashanah, take your measuring tape with you. In keeping with coronavirus safety requirements, synagogues and other houses of worship in Montgomery County must allow 200 square feet of religious ceremony space each participant. That’s about the size of a one-car garage.

The holiday begins at sundown on Friday. Here are the social distancing requirements in Greater Washington’s jurisdictions:

In Montgomery County, outdoor services may not exceed 150 people without a letter of approval from the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.

Prince George’s County set a 50-person limit on gatherings.


Both counties have opted to remain in Phase 2 of Maryland’s recovery plan. Most of the other Maryland counties are in Phase 3 with fewer restrictions. Generally, synagogues in those areas may allow congregants to fill 75 percent of the space.

Northern Virginia is in Phase 3. Family members may sit together in services with those they came with while maintaining at least six feet of separation from other groups. There is no limit to the number of people who can attend a religious service.

However, the state is stressing that “Members are safer at home.” Worshippers are encouraged to participate in online streaming and drive-in options.

Synagogues also should consider holding multiple services to limit the number of participants at individual services. Those services should be spaced out so there is enough time for a thorough cleaning in between each service.

In the District of Columbia, Mayor Muriel Bowser has opted to stay in Phase 2. So synagogues can fill their seats up to 50 percent of capacity or a maximum of 100 people, whichever is the smaller number of worshippers. Each group of up to 10 people who are attending together must remain six feet from other groups.

If you go, wearing a mask that covers both the mouth and nose is essential, as is maintaining proper social distancing and washing your hands.

Still, virtual services are recommended, especially for older adults and people with chronic medical conditions who are at a higher risk of severe problems from COVID-19.

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