Religious gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed to resume statewide Thursday, as long as strict social distancing guidelines are followed, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday.
All participants at these small gatherings should wear masks as part of safety measures, according to the state's guidelines.
Mass gatherings – including those of a religious nature – remain prohibited until regions reach phase four of the reopening process.
The governor said the state is also encouraging religious communities to consider having drive-in and parking lot services.
Cuomo said he understands why people want to more quickly get back to having religious ceremonies and gatherings, but noted that any big gathering can be dangerous.
"I think even at this time of stress and when people are so anxious and so confused, I think those religious ceremonies can be very comforting," he 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," he said.
Some local religious leaders and organizations have been critical of the state for allowing some businesses to reopen before houses of worship were permitted to reopen.
Seven of the state's 10 regions had started rolling back restrictions on businesses by Wednesday.
Western New York began the state's four-phase reopening process Tuesday, allowing manufacturers, contractors and limited retail to restart, along with agriculture.
Covid-19 spreading in low-income communities
Cuomo warned Wednesday that Covid-19 is continuing to spread, especially in low-income communities.
The state, through a research project conducted in New York City, found a pattern of new Covid-19 cases continuing to spread in lower-income communities, which are predominantly communities of color, the governor said.
"That's where the cases are still coming from," he said. "That's where the virus is still spreading."
While the data was related to the New York City area, Cuomo said he believes the same to be true across the state.
All local governments should do more testing and educational outreach in low-income communities in order to combat the spread, he said.