Christmas customarily offers messages of hope and faith at church services, but a Christmas Eve message from Los Angeles County public health officials emphasized that attending indoor church services is not safe.

After Thanksgiving gatherings resulted in a coronavirus surge that has filled some state hospitals beyond normal capacities, the California Department of Public Health issued a statement Thursday to plead for caution and warn against indoor church services on a holy day.

“Now, most unfortunately, is not the time to attend indoor religious services,” the statement said. “The County of Los Angeles is in the midst of its highest surge of COVID-19 cases. The local emergency rooms and hospitals are over-capacity. And there are no indications of an end in sight to the current surge.

“Attending an indoor service will result in transmission of COVID-19 and additional hospitalizations that the healthcare system cannot handle at this time.”

Much of California remains under a stay-at-home order, which includes closing non-essential businesses, with coronavirus claiming almost 24,000 lives in California this year. Los Angeles County reported a one-day record death toll of 148 for Christmas Eve, when Southern California intensive care unit capacity remained at 0%.

Last week, the county loosened guidelines to allow for socially distanced indoor religious gatherings with masked parishioners. That followed national court rulings but was followed by warnings of the dangers, including one from Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez that encouraged priests and pastors to move outside.

No matter what a Superior Court judge says, and given what’s happening now, it is simply too risky to gather indoors with other people who do not live with you,” the state health department statement said.

The message is that according to L.A. County, the smart thing to do is to open the smart TV present early and watch streamed church services in your Christmas pajamas.

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