The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday recommended that “mass gatherings” with 50 or more people be canceled or postponed for eight weeks to fight the coronavirus pandemic – a time span that includes Easter and other religious holidays.
Churches were not excluded from the guidance. The recommendation came hours before the U.S. surgeon general said the nation could become like Italy if major changes to public habits aren’t made. Italy is under lockdown.
Numerous churches across the U.S. held online services Sunday.
“Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities,” the CDC recommendation said. “Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies. These events can be planned not only by organizations and communities but also by individuals.
“Therefore, CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.
“Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing. When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual.”
The recommendation said it does not apply to the “day to day operation of organizations such as schools, institutes of higher learning, or businesses.”
Governors nationwide are ordering schools, restaurants and bars closed.
The eight-week timetable would end in early May and include Passover and Easter.
In Italy, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis ordered all Catholic churches closed to masses but let them stay open for public prayer.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Fox News Monday the U.S. is at a crossroads. The United States has 4,093 cases of coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University – 30 times the number of cases the nation had 11 days ago. Italy has 24,747 cases.
“People, we are where Italy was two weeks ago in terms of our numbers and we have a choice to make as a nation,” he said. “Do we want to go the direction of South Korea and really lower our mortality rates or do we want to go the direction of Italy and when you look at the projections there's every chance we could be Italy – but there's every hope we could be South Korea if people actually listen, if people actually social distance, if people actually do the basic public health measures that we've all been talking about as doctors.”
The worldwide mortality rate for the coronavirus is 3.8 percent. The death rate in Italy is 0.91 percent for the entire population but 9.26 percent for those 80 and above, and 5.27 percent for those in their 70s.
By comparison, the death rate for the flu is 0.1 percent. Unlike for the flu, there is no vaccine for COVID-19.
Photo courtesy: Nicholas Green/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.