Over a dozen churches in Shelby County, Tenn., have allegedly violated the state’s ‘safer-at-home’ orders as a “nonessential business” WREG reported.
The county, which encompasses the city of Memphis, ruled last week that churches cannot operate if they have more than 10 people in attendance. If a church disobeys the order, it can be fined.
The county discovered on Sunday that these churches were not in compliance when health officials investigated.
Dr. Bruce Randolph, a health officer from Shelby County, told the news station that the county is “treating churches just as we’re treating all other essential businesses.”
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Randolph said one estimate said the county could see 20,000 deaths if these orders are not followed. The Daily Memphian reported that since the orders were put into place, the county has seen a 45% drop in travel.
“That’s good, but not good enough,” David Sweat, the county epidemiologist, said. He said the measures will not be considered effective until traffic is down 60 percent.
The fight between churches and health officials have been playing out in public across the country.
President Trump and his coronavirus task force have warned that the next two weeks may be among the darkest in the country’s history. The U.S. had 387, 547 confirmed cases by Tuesday afternoon and recorded over 12,000 deaths. New York City has been seen as the country’s epicenter with 4,000 deaths.
Trump has tried to strike an optimistic tone.
“Stay inside and let’s win this and let’s get our country as soon as we can. I think it’s going to be sooner than people think. Things are going really well,” Trump said at a Monday press conference.
Health officials insist that pastors who disregard these orders are putting lives at risk, while religious leaders say it is in times of crisis that people turn to their faith more than ever.
Pastor Ricky Floyd of the Pursuit of God Church told WREG that he has been streaming his services since the orders came down and has been criticized for the move.
“No way you could have ever told me that the biggest fight in the church would be whether you should have your church open or closed, and…I’ve lost relationships because people have voiced strong opinions,” he told the station.
The crackdown happens to be occurring right as Easter Sunday is approaching. Bishop Phoebe Roaf, the head of the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee, told ActionNews5 that even though Easter may look different, the sentiment remains.
“God is not confined to a building. And while faith communities aren’t able to worship together in person, the way we have the mission of God has not changed. Prayer has not changed, and all of the values of God, the values of compassion, the values of humility, the values of generosity, those are things that we need now more than ever,” Roaf said.