Cities, states grapple with church services in wake of COVID-19 crisis

As coronavirus infections multiply throughout the U.S., cities and states are scrambling to advise churches on how their gatherings fit into social distancing guidelines urging Americans to avoid groups of 10 or more people and to stay at home as much as possible to slow the spread of coronavirus.

In a March 27 press briefing, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened to close the buildings of churches and other religious groups if they continue to gather for corporate worship as COVID-19 spreads through the city. Southern Baptist leaders voiced their objections to de Blasio’s threat.

In Georgia, a shelter-in-place order said churches fall under the prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 people and said drive-in church was included. Georgia’s public health commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, said health officials have identified at least five COVID-19 outbreaks in the state stemming from church gatherings plus more outbreaks connected to funerals.

In Alabama, state officials declined to provide guidance on drive-in churches, advising churches to heed the advice of local law enforcement officials before holding such services.

The U.S. has more than 250,000 coronavirus infections as of April 3, and that number is increasing rapidly. The global infection rate surpassed the 1 million mark on April 2. (TAB)