D.C. Denies 'COVID-Immune Section' For Vaccinated Parishioners At Capitol Hill Church The church proposed a section of 328 seats that wouldn't have any social distancing requirements for fully vaccinated parishioners.
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NPR logo D.C. Denies 'COVID-Immune Section' For Vaccinated Parishioners At Capitol Hill Church

D.C. Denies 'COVID-Immune Section' For Vaccinated Parishioners At Capitol Hill Church

While D.C. didn't grant the COVID-immune section request, it did approve the church's waiver request for a "non-immune" socially distanced seating arrangement Dhousch/Wikimedia Commons hide caption

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Dhousch/Wikimedia Commons

The D.C. government has denied a pastor's request to instate a "COVID-immune section" for fully vaccinated parishioners at Capitol Hill Baptist Church — a church that has been going back and forth with the city over reopening restrictions throughout the pandemic.

The church proposed a section of 328 seats in its West Hall that wouldn't have any social distancing requirements, but D.C. officials denied the request on Wednesday after reviewing DC Health and Centers for Disease Control guidelines. The church's request did not include a relaxing of mask requirements.

Christopher Rodriguez, director of D.C.'s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, wrote a letter to Associate Pastor Jamie Dunlop citing the most recent CDC guidance, which allows fully vaccinated people to meet indoors with each other "in [a] home or private setting" without social distancing or masks. Rodriguez said that the COVID-immune seating section would not allow for social distancing in a public setting that includes unvaccinated people from multiple households. The letter was first reported by Barred In DC.

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According to the letter, Capitol Hill Baptist Church leaders requested the seating arrangement based on their interpretation of the CDC guidance — that fully vaccinated people could be permitted to gather indoors with fewer restrictions.

If the request had been granted, it would have been the first such approval in D.C. Other cities, including New York, have allowed fans into stadiums and entertainment venues with proof of vaccination — a "vaccine passport" of sorts.

While D.C. didn't grant the COVID-immune section request, it did approve the church's waiver request for a "non-immune" socially-distanced seating arrangement. As Barred In DC points out, the proposal would allow as many as 500 people to be seated indoors across seven different sections, twice the capacity allowed in Mayor Muriel Bowser's latest order. (A waiver, such as the one the church requested, is required for any gatherings over 250 people.)

The 850-member evangelical church won a legal battle against the mayor last fall, when a federal judge granted their request to hold in-person services. The church had previously sued D.C. on grounds that banning in-person religious services was unconstitutional, even gaining support from the U.S. Department of Justice. The church held its first pandemic-times outdoor service in October.

Rodriguez wrote in his letter approving the non-immune seating: "This permission is granted in a good faith effort to address CHBC's concerns regarding capacity limits. The total capacity CHBC proposes — and that we hereby permit — is beyond what we believe to be sound as a matter of public health."

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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