President Donald Trump ordered states to allow churches to re-open from stay-at-home restrictions imposed to combat the coronavirus outbreak, saying he would override any governor who refuses.
"The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now," Trump said in a statement to reporters at the White House. "By this weekend."
"If they don't do it I will override the governors," he added. Churches would be declared "essential" services under CDC guidelines, he said.
It's unclear if Trump has the power to override state orders to close churches or limit the size of services.
The president has shown increasing exasperation with state social distancing regulations that have collapsed the U.S. economy, as he spurs Americans to return to normal economic and social life.
Recommendations for restarting activities by religious organizations weren't part of CDC suggestions for opening workplaces, schools and restaurants released over the weekend, though they had been included in a draft first reported by the Associated Press. The release gave detailed suggestions for social distancing, hygienic practices and symptom-checking that are in many cases tailored to the organization and its activities.
As with hospitals, long-term care facilities, family gatherings and other places people meet, religious organizations have been notable sites of coronavirus outbreaks since the pandemic's start. In mid-March, for example, a Bible study group meeting was tied to an outbreak of 35 confirmed cases in a rural county in Arkansas, according to a CDC report Tuesday.