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President Trump announced Friday he’s deemed churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship to be “essential places that provide essential services” that can reopen this weekend.
Trump said during a brief news conference he had directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue guidance for faith communities to safely reopen from the coronavirus pandemic.
“These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united,” he said.
Health officials recommend staying home when possible as people infected with COVID-19 may show minor or no symptoms. When people do need to go out, the CDC recommends practicing social distancing, wearing a mask and frequently washing hands and sanitizing surfaces.
In one case highlighted by the CDC, 38 percent of attendees at one rural Arkansas church developed COVID-19 in early March. Three of them died, and the CDC warned that large gatherings pose a risk for transmitting the virus.
The president said he expects religious leaders “will make sure that their congregations are safe as they gather and pray."
The CDC’s interim guidance recommends that faith groups check with local and state authorities about the current mitigation levels in their communities.
For higher-risk congregants, the CDC suggests remote participation in services.
Facilities that do reopen should encourage staff and congregants to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, according to the CDC. They should also have hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol available, as well as tissues and no-touch trash cans.
Everyday protective measures like wearing a cloth face covering and social distancing should also be followed by staff and congregants, the CDC advised.
Faith groups should also step up their cleaning, disinfection and ventilation.
Trump urged governors to go along with his decision.
“I will override the governors” if they stop houses of worship from reopening, he said.