President Trump on Friday said churches, synagogues and mosques are “essential places that provide essential services” and must reopen this weekend despite ongoing coronavirus transmission.
Mr. Trump said some blue states declared abortion clinics to be essential amid the pandemic, yet not houses of worship.
“It’s not right,” Mr. Trump said. “So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”
He said governors will have a hard time if they don’t comply.
“If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less,” Mr. Trump said.
It’s unclear what authority the president would rely on to overrule the governors.
Also, one of the key members of his coronavirus task force said some places might want to “wait” if viral transmission remains high, indicating the decision would be up to local authorities.
“That’s up to the governors,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said, though stressed the president will urge faith communities to reopen this Sunday.
“It is safe to reopen your churches if you do so in accordance with the guidelines,” she said, referring to new tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among other things, the new guidelines urge churches to have hand sanitizer on hand, clean surfaces regularly, and maintain a distance of 6 feet or more between congregants, possibly by holding services in larger, well-ventilated areas.
The CDC says churches should try to minimize the use of frequently touched items — for instance, consider a stationary offering box instead of passing around a collection plate.
Pastors across America have adjusted to the era of “social distancing” by offering livestreams from the sanctuary or drive-in services in the parking lot.
As states open up, churches are figuring out how to hold services with adequate spacing in the pews or other safeguards against infection.
Church events were the source of community outbreaks in Georgia and Arkansas earlier this year.
Scientists also say choirs, in particular, are susceptible to transmission of COVID-19 due to the mechanics of packing together, emitting particles while singing and breathing in deeply.
“Consider suspending or at least decreasing use of a choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition,” the CDC guidance says. “The act of singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.”
Vice President Mike Pence highlighted the need to be cautious during a trip to Georgia, where he lauded Gov. Brian Kemp for leading the way in reopening his economy.
“We hope around the country to be able to open up places of worship very soon and do that in a way that continues to be mindful of all we’ve learned about coronavirus and continue to practice the safe and healthy measures to see our nation through this time,” Mr. Pence said. “We are getting there.”
Mr. Trump held a conference call on Thursday with about 1,600 faith leaders across the country. He told them that their right to assemble safely “is key to America’s ‘transition to greatness,’” said White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere.
Cases of COVID-19 continue to slow across the country, generally, though U.S. coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx says she is worried about the Chicago and D.C. areas, citing a plateau in day-to-day cases instead of a decline.
Dr. Birx asked the CDC to explore the issue. Both areas have been shut down for some time, she said, yet “we still see these ongoing cases.”
She also said it will be OK for people to enjoy themselves on Memorial Day, but they should stick to the outdoors and maintain distance from others.
There are other precautions they can take, too, such as playing tennis with marked balls so they only touch their own equipment.
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