The Trump administration continues politicizing public health with its latest changes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coronavirus reopening guidelines. As Donald Trump works to cement the evangelical vote, the administration dramatically watered down the guidance for churches—and in particular for choirs.
Churches have been the sites of several superspreading events from South Korea to Arkansas, and a Washington state choir practice led to 87% of the attendees becoming infected. But the Trump administration has removed the CDC’s warnings about choir or congregant singing, as well as about shared cups.
The CDC had originally included the recommendation that churches “consider suspending or at least decreasing use of choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition.” From “consider” to “at least decreasing” to “if appropriate within the faith tradition,” that is extremely careful, noncoercive language. And it explained why: “The act of singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.”
That language hadn’t been approved by the White House, though, and the very next day, it had been removed and a statement that the guidance “is not intended to infringe on rights protected by the First Amendment” had been added.
”[Two White House] officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about policy discussions, said there have long been concerns within the White House that there were too many restrictions on choirs,” The Washington Post reports. The White House is also worried that it would anger evangelicals by suggesting not sharing hymnals or passing collection plates.
People have literally died because of going to choir practice or to a church that wasn’t practicing social distancing, but Team Trump won’t even offer a gentle suggestion that churches limit singing and the passing of shared objects. That’s not about the First Amendment—churches can be provided the information without the booted heel of the state slamming down on them. It’s about Donald Trump’s particular political need to suck up to evangelicals in advance of November. And it’s going to get people killed.