WASHINGTON — During an unexpected press briefing Friday, President Trump called on governors to reopen houses of worship "because the country needs more prayer."
"Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques-- as essential places that provide essential services," Trump said.
Trump said that if governors don't abide by his request, he will "override" them, though it's unclear what authority he has to do so.
In the DMV, church status varies widely, largely dependent on what stage of reopening the locality is in. For example, D.C. proper is still under a stay-at-home order, and is targeting May 29 as the date the city may enter Stage 1 of reopening.
Under the city's ReOpen DC recommendations for religious institutions, virtual services are recommended until Stage 3. Under Stage 1, small group activities can be conducted with up to 10 people (eg bible study groups); Stage 2 allows for worship services of up to 50 people; and Stage 3 allows for up to 250 people to gather. All of the stages require strict social distancing and safety protocols to be followed.
See the interactive map below for details on who has and hasn't reopened:
Parts of Maryland and Virginia have already begun Phase 1 of reopening, and in both states Phase 1 allowed for religious institutions to reopen with certain restrictions in place.
"In a time like this faith is more important than ever," Northam said responding to Trump's call for churches to reopen." We want to make sure folks are allowed to practice their religion and do so safely."
In the commonwealth, places of worship can open under these conditions:
- 50% indoor capacity, outdoor services encouraged
- Parishioners sitting six-feet apart (family members from same household allowed to sit together)
- Items such as collection plates cannot be passed between attendees not from same family
- Anything used to distribute food/beverage must be disposable, and only used once
- Deep cleaning and disinfection of commonly touched surfaces before and after all services
- Post signage at the entrance that states that no one with a fever or symptoms of COVID-19, or known exposure to a COVID-19 case in the prior 14 days, is permitted in the establishment
- Post signage to provide public health reminders regarding social distancing, gatherings, options for high-risk individuals, and staying home if sick
- Face coverings are encouraged
Northam delayed opening in Northern Virginia and a few other areas of the commonwealth until May 29, given higher case counts. According to a spokesperson from the governor's office, "places of worship in localities that remain under a Stay at Home order (such as Northern Virginia) can operate with less than 10 people inside, or host virtual or drive-in services."
Virginia localities targeting May 29 reopen:
- Loudoun County
- Fairfax County
- City of Alexandria
- Arlington County
- Prince William County
- Fairfax City
- Manassas Park
- Falls Church
- Accomack County
In Maryland, Gov. Hogan echoed the sentiments of Northam in regard to the importance of faith.
"Faith and worship are such an essential part of the lives of so many people,” Hogan said at a news conference announcing Maryland would begin reopening May 15. "Religious leaders are strongly urged to do everything possible to keep their congregants safe and particularly to protect the elderly and the vulnerable within their congregations.”
His Phase 1 also allowed for religious institutions to open at 50% capacity, with social distancing enforced. But some counties chose to take a slower phased-in approach, or haven't felt ready to announce reopening plans yet.
- Montgomery County: Stay-at-home order still in place, no date announced
- Prince Georges's County: Stay-at-home order in place until June 1
- Baltimore County: Drive-thru services only
- Charles County: Stay-at-home order extended until May 29
- Frederick County: Religious services at 50% capacity starting May 29
- Anne Arundel County: Services of 10 or less
- Howard County: Services of 10 or less
In Calvert County, Pastor Jason Baxter, with the New Life Baptist Church said he was "more than ready" to reopen when he was given the green light. He opened the church to 20 congregants May 17, implementing many of the state's regulations and county's suggestions for safety.
“We did the hand sanitizer. We did the one person opening the door, nobody touch door handles, Lysol the bathrooms after you use it," he said.
But not all who could reopen, felt ready to do so. Dr. Tiina Rodrigue, the President of Beth Sholom Temple in Fredericksburg, Virginia, said the temple has committed to following CDC recommendations on reopening. For now, Dr. Rodrigue said that means continuing to offer virtual services.
"While the governor does not feel that the Fredericksburg area is part of Northern Virginia, we’re really a bedroom community for DC," Dr. Rodrigue said. "So until it is safe for our congregation, we’re not going to endanger anyone’s life."
Following President Trump's comments, the CDC released its own guidelines for faith communities, which encourages "communication with local and state authorities to determine current mitigation levels in your community."