In new purple tier, local churches prepare to move back outdoors


SAN DIEGO – San Diego County slipped back into the state’s most restrictive reopening tier this week, forcing local churches to once again halt indoor worship services.

The news didn’t come as much of a surprise to the Rock Church in Point Loma, which hasn’t held indoor service for much of the year amid the ongoing pandemic.

“We never really went back into the building,” Pastor Travis Gibson said. “For us, it really didn’t make sense. We have a large congregation and the best thing to do was keep people watching online and having church at home.”

In the state’s purple reopening tier, places of worship only are allowed to open outdoors with modifications. Prior to this week, the county was in the red tier, which lets churches open indoors with modifications including limiting occupancy to 25% of capacity.

The county’s demotion from the less-restrictive red tier is the result of two weeks of case rates that exceeded the threshold of 7 per 100,000 residents. In recent weeks, the region had an unadjusted rate well above the purple tier guidelines, but a significant effort to increase the volume of tests had allowed for an adjustment to bring it back to the red, or substantial, tier.

State officials reported Tuesday that San Diego County had an unadjusted new daily coronavirus case rate of 10.0 per 100,000. The adjusted case rate dropped to 8.9 per 100,000.

Gibson, leader of the church for the past seven years, compares the most recent shutdown to romance.

“It creates a sort of up down emotion for people, sort of like a bad relationship,” he said. “We break up, we’re back, we break up, we’re back, and we didn’t want to experience that.”

The Rock Church has seven locations throughout the county. In Point Loma, Gibson said typically some 7,000 people would attend a normal Sunday service before the coronavirus outbreak.

Today, it’s about 20% of that as they hold services outdoors and online.

“We never told people we’re about to go inside,” he said. “We never made that statement. Fortunately for us, we haven’t had to go backwards; we’ve only been able to make step forward and I think that’s really been encouraging for our church.”

Other churches who did move indoors will have to revert back outdoors due to the county’s reopening status. As they prepare to shift gears again, Gibson prays for a smooth transition for all.

“I would just encourage them to be faithful and take care of their flock that they’d be entrusted to take care of and ask for wisdom,” Gibson said.

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