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State

Small religious gatherings allowed starting today

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Mike Desmond
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Crowded services will not be allowed as houses of worship open back up.

New York will allow small religious gatherings starting Thursday as the state gradually loosens restrictions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at his Wednesday briefing.

Religious gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed statewide as long as participants wear masks and practice social distancing. The state also is allowing drive-in and parking lot services.

The state will work with an Interfaith Advisory Council to discuss proposals to safely bring back religious services. The council consists of dozens of religious leaders, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts.

"I understand their desire to get to religious ceremonies as soon as possible. As a former altar boy, I get it,'' Cuomo said. "But we need to find out how to do it and do it safely and do it smartly. The last thing we want to do is have a religious ceremony that winds up having more people infected. I think those religious ceremonies can be very comforting, but we need to find out how to do it and do it safely and do it smartly.''

Just Monday, Cuomo said churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship were not permitted to reopen until Phase 4 of NY Forward. Religious leaders asked the state for more guidance, and whether -- if they practiced safe social distancing -- they could open sooner than that. 

Speaking in Buffalo, he compared a large worship event to the crowded sightseeing boats now banned in Niagara Falls.

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