A new dilemma for the Trump team: preventing super-spreading churches

Others, including Trump, have attributed the growing number of cases in places like Arizona, Texas, North Carolina, and Florida to expand evidence capabilities, even when White House officials privately acknowledge that the volume of recently confirmed cases exceeds what increased testing would represent.

A Justice Department spokeswoman, who intervened in several states to seek equal treatment for churches in the reopening process, declined to comment on whether the agency plans to change its current approach by pressing to reopen houses of worship.

At the task force’s press conference on Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said federal, state and local officials “have a lot of work ahead” to avoid a second viral wave as companies small social gatherings are reopened and allowed again. “Americans can be assured that we have a rock-solid foundation to help us return to work, school, worship and return to health care where we tackle the waves of the virus where they occur,” said Azar.

Vice President Mike Pence asked Americans to follow the existing guidelines of public officials, and to pray. “I just encourage all Americans to continue to pray. Pray for all the families who have lost loved ones. Pray for our healthcare workers on the front line, ”said Pence. “Pray that, by the grace of God, we will do our part every day to heal our land.”

Previous guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which urged churches to suspend choir activities, Eucharistic exchange, recitation of creeds, and other programs, had baffled Trump attendees by the end of the year. Last month, those who felt that the public health agency was burdening religious communities with unnecessary restrictions In an updated guide published shortly after Trump demanded that states allow the reopening of churches, the CDC said its recommendations “had no the intention to infringe the rights protected by the First Amendment. ”

“Some governors have considered liquor stores and abortion clinics to be essential. It is not right, so I am correcting this injustice and consider that houses of worship are essential, ”Trump had said at the time, following public complaints from some of his main allies about religious law about ongoing church closings. .

The same day Trump declared church business was “essential,” the senior pastor at Lighthouse Pentescostal, the church in Oregon now at the center of the state’s worst coronavirus outbreak, wrote in an Instagram post that it would begin the in-person services that weekend “in agreement with President Trump.”

Other religious institutions filed lawsuits against state officials who refused to lift restrictions on church meetings, calling the rules unconstitutional as other companies were allowed to resume service.

Now Trump is grappling with the consequences, unforeseen or not, of his aggressive push to reopen churches at a time when he cannot afford to agitate his religious supporters.

Surveys conducted since the coronavirus pandemic began have shown a steady decline in his favorability rate among white Catholics and white evangelicals, the demographics that led to his victory in 2016 and whose support he will need to defeat Joe Biden, his long-awaited Democratic challenger this fall.

Despite the outbreaks occurring in churches and elsewhere, the president’s response lately has been to double his effort to boost the US economy and reopen houses of worship, restaurants, manufacturing facilities, and retail suppliers.

As part of the White House’s efforts to maintain its indispensable bond with religious conservatives, Pence has visited two churches in the past month in Maryland and Pittsburgh and, despite postponing campaign events, still has an appearance scheduled on Sunday at First Baptist Dallas in Texas, led by the Rev. Robert Jeffress, one of the president’s most visible evangelical advisers.

Jeffress, who authored a pamphlet at the start of the pandemic asking if the coronavirus outbreak was “a judgment from God” (it was not, ultimately, concluded), rejected recommendations to stay home in March to keep in person. services at its 13,000-member mega church in Texas. In June, he pressured other churches “to begin the process of returning to [in-person services] safely “in an opinion piece for Fox News.

But Jeffress also ventured into the territory where Trump has danced by insisting that protective masks should be mandatory within places of worship. The draft guide circulating within the administration last month also called for the use of face covers during religious services, although it was later changed to say that they should be used when social distancing cannot be practiced.

Unfortunately, wearing a mask has become a political problem for many people. It is not a political problem; It is a medical problem. It is not about your freedom; it’s about keeping other people safe, “Jeffress wrote.

Trump, who refused to cover his face while speaking to students inside the Phoenix megachurch on Tuesday, repeatedly assured the crowd that the United States is nearing “the end of the pandemic.”

At the task force briefing on Friday, Pence acknowledged “growing cases and outbreaks in various southern states” and joined other top administration officials who called for renewed vigilance. But he did not explicitly ask for the use of masks, instead saying that Americans should “pay attention to the guidance of state and local officials.”