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After Trump's directive, churches become key source of virus cases

Seven weeks ago, Trump deemed places of worship to be "essential" workplaces that had to be re-opened immediately. This was clearly unwise.
Image: Easter morning with the sun behind a church steepl cross.
A wood cross on an old church steeple backlighted by a rising sun. Some copy space.wwing / Getty Images

In mid-May, Donald Trump's political advisers were concerned about the president's slipping support among religious conservatives. Those concerns prompted a strange White House event intended to address the political problem.

The president stood in the Rose Garden and announced that his administration had deemed places of worship to be "essential" workplaces that had to be re-opened immediately. Trump added that governors had to follow his directive on worship services or he would "override" them.

None of this made any sense. The White House had no authority in this area, and administration officials hadn't thought through any of the public-health implications of such an announcement. Trump, indifferent toward governance, did it anyway.

Seven weeks later, the New York Times took note of how coronavirus infections have spread by way of houses of worship.

Weeks after President Trump demanded that America’s shuttered houses of worship be allowed to reopen, new outbreaks of the coronavirus are surging through churches across the country where services have resumed. The virus has infiltrated Sunday sermons, meetings of ministers and Christian youth camps in Colorado and Missouri. It has struck churches that reopened cautiously with face masks and social distancing in the pews, as well as some that defied lockdowns and refused to heed new limits on numbers of worshipers.

Alas, this isn't an entirely new problem. The week Trump announced his directive, several churches that tried to re-open too early were forced to re-close when congregants and church leaders alike were infected with the coronavirus.

CNBC also reported in May that the CDC "tracked a cluster of coronavirus cases in rural Arkansas back to a church pastor and his wife, indicating that faith-based organizations and events could be sources of COVID-19 transmission."

The Times' report reinforced the unfortunate fact that the problem has spread in the wake of those incidents.

Stepping back, there is a larger context to keep in mind: as was clear yesterday, Trump is pushing for broad re-openings throughout American society, without any apparent regard for public-health consequences.

Given the president's recent track record, maybe now would be a good time to disregard his politically motivated demands?