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Trump demands churches open despite coronavirus fears as Memorial Day weekend begins

Tyrone Beason, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Memorial Day Weekend traditionally means family barbecues, road trips, crowded parks and carefree days spent basking by the water, but Americans venturing out after weeks of sheltering in place are being asked not to let up their guard as the coronavirus continues to spread.

Brushing aside warnings by public-health officials about the ongoing risk of holding large gatherings, President Donald Trump called on governors to reopen churches "right now, for this weekend" during a news briefing at the White House on Friday.

"Today I am identifying houses of worship, churches, synagogues and mosques as essential places that provide essential services," Trump said. "Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It's not right."

"These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united," he said, while expressing confidence that religious leaders will work ensure that their congregations will be safe.

He vowed to "override" any governor who refused to do so. A White House spokeswoman later acknowledged the decision would be "up to the governors."

In-person religious services have been vectors for coronavirus transmission. A person who attended a Mother's Day service at a church in Northern California that defied the governor's closure orders later tested positive, exposing more than 180 churchgoers. And a choir practice at a Washington state church was labeled by the CDC as an early "superspreading" event.

 

As of Friday, more than 95,800 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the data.

Visitors to public spaces around the country can expect distancing restrictions and many closures.

At the famous beachside boardwalk at New York's Coney Island, residents can stroll on the sand and even dip their feet in the ocean, but swimming is still banned, and people in the nation's largest and hardest-hit city are being encouraged to keep their distance from each other.

Residents are free to enjoy the sand and surf in Virginia Beach, but that city's mayor, Bobby Dyer, said 150 "beach ambassadors" would be dispatched to ask residents who are congregating in large groups to comply with social-distancing rules.

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