Monday, June 29, 2020

Trump Is Leading His Church-Going Fans Into The Arms Of The Virus


Butte County in northern California has about 220,000 people. The closest towns that could pass for cities are Chico (pop-103,301) and Oroville (pop-20,737). After the devastation of the 2018 Camp Fire, the city of Paradise went from a population of 26,218 to just 4,476.Now Butte has another problem its residents never imagined they would have to confront: a pandemic. About a month ago, writing to the L.A. Times, Laura Newberry reported about a Butte County church at the nexus of the county's pandemic. Pastor Mike Jacobsen of Palermo Bible Family Church defied public health officials and held an in-person Mother’s Day service exposing 180 congregants to the coronavirus (71 were infected). In a Facebook post Jacobsen said that an asymptomatic congregant who attended the May 11 service woke up the next morning "needing medical attention," was tested that day and confirmed positive two days later.

While local health officials began attempting to notify every person who attended the service and instruct them to self-quarantine, Danette York, Butte County public health director, issued a statement noting that "At this time, organizations that hold in-person services or gatherings are putting the health and safety of their congregations, the general public and our local ability to open up at great risk... Moving too quickly through the reopening process can cause a major setback and could require us to revert back to more restrictive measures."

Butte County leans Republican-- but not overwhelmingly so. Trump won there is 2016 with 48% of the vote to Hillary's 44%. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian got nearly 5%. Butte was one of the counties Gavin Newsom gave permission to open too early. There is little social distancing in the county and, as in the rest of California, no endorsement of "mandatory" mask rules.

Newberry reported that the pastor "said it’s important for Palermo Bible’s many young, new believers to be supported in their fledgling faith-- and part of that is being able to attend church in person. He compared the act of depriving these congregants of in-person worship to taking 'an infant out of the arms of its mother. We’ve really tried to raise the bar and do a good job with what we’ve been given,' Jacobsen said of virtual services, 'but it’s not the same as being together in fellowship with one another.'"

As of Saturday, just 2 people had died in Butte. Of the 143 COVID cases in the county, only 47 are still active. Coronavirus has spread among church congregations all over the world, famously in Germany and South Korea, but most notoriously here in the U.S., where a dozen churches have sued to overturn restrictions on their freedom of worship.

Reporting for Politico Sunday, Gabby Orr wrote about how Trump has made-- as is his wont-- a bad situation worse. Just a month after the self-serving sociopath ordered all governors "to immediately reopen churches, his administration is facing a difficult dilemma. Clusters of Covid-19 cases are surfacing in counties across the U.S. where in-person religious services have resumed, triggering questions about whether his administration should reassess its campaign to treat houses of worship the same as other essential businesses, or leave them alone and risk additional transmission of the deadly coronavirus-- including in communities that are largely supportive of the president."
An outbreak at a Pentecostal church in Oregon, where hundreds of worshipers resumed gathering over Memorial Day weekend, forced an entire county to return to phase one of its reopening after local officials traced 258 cases of Covid-19 back to the facility. In West Virginia, six health departments across the state have reported coronavirus outbreaks linked to churches. One of them, a Baptist church in Greenbrier County, had 34 congregants test positive for the virus. And in Texas, which hit an all-time high of new cases last week, health officials have received numerous reports of church-related exposures.

The disturbing trend did not stop Trump and other senior administration officials from visiting an Arizona mega-church this week for a “Students for Trump” rally, where MAGA ball caps were far more ubiquitous than face masks. Images from the event-- showing hundreds of mask-less teenagers sitting in close quarters for the president’s remarks-- embodied the predicament Trump now faces: Many of his Christian supporters rushed to embrace the country’s reopening, which has included the return of in-person worship services in many states. Now, re-imposing previous restrictions to protect other Americans could impair the president’s relationship with his own base.

"I just encourage every American to continue to pray. Pray for all the families that have lost loved ones. Pray for our health care workers on the front lines. Pray that by God’s grace, every single day, will each of us do our part to heal our land."

So far, administration officials have declined to single out church-related outbreaks as problematic.

A senior administration official briefed on the discussions said members of the White House coronavirus task force began expressing serious concerns this week about rising infection rates in a dozen states, particularly after Florida reported record-breaking cases last Wednesday-- leading to the task force’s first briefing in two months on Friday. But the same official said the task force does not consider churches to be super-spreaders, or hotspots for Covid-19 transmission, at this time.

Others, including Trump, have chalked up the rising number of cases in places like Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Florida to expanded testing capabilities, even as White House officials privately acknowledge the volume of newly confirmed cases exceeds that which increased testing would account for.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, which intervened in several states to seek equal treatment for churches in the reopening process, declined to comment on whether the agency plans to change its current approach pushing to reopen houses of worship.

...Previous guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-- which urged churches to suspend choir activities, eucharistic sharing, the recitation of creeds and other programming-- had roiled Trump aides late last month who felt the public health agency was burdening faith communities with unnecessary restrictions. In updated guidance posted shortly after Trump demanded that states allow churches to reopen, the CDC said its recommendations were “not intended to infringe on rights protected by the First Amendment.”

“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential. It’s not right, so I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential,” Trump had said at the time, following public complaints from some of his top allies on the religious right about ongoing church closures.

On the same day Trump pronounced churches “essential” businesses, the lead pastor at Lighthouse Pentescostal, the Oregon church now at the center of the state’s worst coronavirus outbreak, wrote in an Instagram post that he would begin in-person services that weekend “in accordance with President Trump.”

Other religious institutions filed lawsuits against state officials who declined to lift restrictions on church gatherings, calling the rules unconstitutional since other businesses were permitted to resume service.

Now Trump is grappling with the fallout-- unforeseen or not-- of his aggressive push to reopen churches at a time when he can’t afford to agitate his religious supporters.

Polls conducted since the coronavirus pandemic began have shown a steady decline in his favorability rating among white Catholics and white evangelicals, demographics that helped carry him to victory in 2016 and whose backing he will need to defeat Joe Biden, his expected Democratic challenger, this fall.

Despite the outbreaks occurring in churches and elsewhere, the president’s response lately has been to double down on his effort to jumpstart the U.S. economy and reopen houses of worship, restaurants, manufacturing facilities and retail suppliers.

As part of the White House’s efforts to maintain its indispensable bond with religious conservatives, Pence has visited two churches in the past month in Maryland and Pittsburgh, and-- despite postponing campaign events-- still has a planned appearance Sunday at First Baptist Dallas in Texas, which is run by Rev. Robert Jeffress, one of the president’s most visible evangelical advisers.

Republican operatives are starting to circulate a rumor that Typhoid Mary may find an excuse to not run for reelection

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At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

honestly, let the churches kill as many of their idiot congregants as they can. I mean, how can that hurt? It's the definition of addition by subtraction.

At 5:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As long as they take Trump with them when they leave.


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