ATLANTA — 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.
“Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services," Trump said during an unannounced press conference.
Trump said if governors don't abide by his request, he will “override" them, though it's unclear what authority he has to do so.
Several clusters of coronavirus in Georgia have been traced back to church gatherings. The deadly virus spread among a church choir in Floyd County in March, leaving a 65-year-old grandmother of four dead.
Several more deaths have been traced back to funeral services in Albany.
Still, despite the ongoing threat, some Georgia churches are planning to reopen their doors this week.
Channel 2′s Lauren Pozen spoke with the archbishop of the Catholic church in Atlanta, who said in-person masses can begin again on Monday. Weekend services can begin next Saturday and Sunday.
Some parishes will reopen while others might not. It's up to the church and what their comfort level is.
Atlanta Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer said the plan will slowly allow people to reenter buildings again and to once again provide sacraments.
Parishioners will follow guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Weeks ago, the CDC had prepared a draft of reopening guidelines for churches and other houses of worship weeks ago that included measures like maintaining distance between parishioners and limiting the size of gatherings.
CDC officials said its guidance for opening houses of worship is “non-binding public health guidance for consideration only; it is not meant to regulate or prescribe standards for interactions of faith communities in houses of worship.”
Maureen Smith, the director of communications for the Catholic church in Atlanta, said safety and sanitation are top priorities. She said in between each service, church pews will be wiped down, and that’s not all.
Smith said people who have been sheltering in place together can sit together at mass, but they must be six feet away from the next family unit.
“We’re asking parishioners to remove Bibles and song books from the pews so that the person isn’t using the same books used from the previous service,” Smith said.
Communion will also look a little different.
“We will not be distributing precious blood from the cup at this time,” Smith said. “That is something a lot of parishioners don’t do, distribute the cup during the regular flu season.”
Pozen talked to one parishioner who said he is looking forward to returning and that watching services online hasn’t been the greatest.
“Not on Facebook. You can’t hear it,” he said.
Churches also have the option to hold services outside. The archbishop said members who might not be comfortable yet to come back will be allowed to miss in-person mass through June 28.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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