Trump deems churches essential, calls for governors to allow in-person services


Simon Shek (Flickr)

President Trump called for churches to reopen last Sunday

Ole Olafson, Reporter

On May 22, President Trump declared churches essential and called for governors across the country to allow the resumption of in-person services and threatened to override their decisions if they did not comply.

The president’s announcement came on a Friday, asking houses of worship to reopen in time for Sunday services after some churches had been closed for months.  The timing was made more awkward by the fact that many worship centers seemed to have already made plans reopen this weekend or in early June in coordination with their individual state guidelines and leadership.  Many sources contend that the president has no actual powers to demand states reopen their churches.  The announcement prompted the CDC to release a new set of guidelines regarding safety recommendations for places of worship.

Concerns over church reopening don’t seem to be unfounded as information surrounding several services which were held during stay-at-home restrictions indicate significant transmission or exposure to the coronavirus.

A Mother’s Day service in Northern California reportedly led to one third of the county’s confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Newsweek reported on May 19 that a Baptist church in Georgia reclosed after an undisclosed number of its congregation became infected, even though the church claims to have been abiding by social distancing guidelines.

A Catholic church near Houston reportedly cancelled their in-person services on May 14, less than two weeks after reopening, following the possible COVID-19 related death of a priest at the church.  Since then, five other members of the church’s clergy have tested positive for COVID-19.  All five are apparently asymptomatic.

Churches in those states, as well as in Arizona, were given “essential” status by their governors and allowed to remain open at their discretion throughout the pandemic.  Most closed voluntarily.

Gov. Doug Ducey has issued “Guidance for Places of Worship” as a possible template for Arizona churches to follow as they reopen.  The document stresses social distancing as well as the use of facial masks and continuing to offer remote worship options for those members of the congregation who may not be comfortable attending in-person services.  Ducey also calls for churches to suspend the use of choirs or large musical ensembles during their services.  It is thought that forcefully projecting ones voice, as during singing, may transmit the virus more readily.  The governor’s guidelines also call for churches to provide additional hygiene supplies such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes as well as limiting communally used items such as bibles, hymnals and collection plates.