WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday said he has deemed churches and other houses of worship “essential” and called on governors to allow them to reopen this weekend despite the threat of the coronavirus.
“Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said during a hastily arranged press conference Friday. He said if governors don’t abide by his request, he will “override” them, though it’s unclear what authority he has to do so.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had prepared reopening guidelines for churches and other houses of worship weeks ago, but the White House had refused to release them until Thursday when Trump abruptly changed course.
“I said ‘You better put it out.’ And they’re doing it,” Trump said Thursday at a Ford Motor Co. plant repurposed to make ventilators in Michigan. “And they’re going to be issuing something today or tomorrow on churches. We got to get our churches open.”
Later in the briefing, White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, underscored that reopening was at the discretion of governors and religious leaders.
“I think each one of the leaders in the faith community should be in touch with their local health department so they can communicate to their congregants. Certainly people that have significant comorbidities, we want them protected. I know those houses of worship want to protect them,” Birx said. “Maybe they can’t go this week if there’s high numbers of Covid cases. Maybe they wait another week. But there is a way to social distance … in places of worship.”
McEnany, asked about Birx’s response, said the decision to reopen based on the new federal guidance is “up to the governors.” McEnany would not explain what authority Trump would use to “override” governors’ decisions to keep places of worship closed.