- Despite orders against large social gatherings, some churches in places like Florida, Louisiana, and Ohio have continued to host mass services for hundreds of worshipers.
- One Florida church leader said his members were practicing “social distancing, or whatever,” despite live video of them clearly not.
- He also told churchgoers that they were more likely to contract the virus elsewhere, not in church, and has peddled misinformation about the virus.
- Meanwhile, a Louisiana preacher has said the coronavirus is “not a concern” and is “politically motivated.”
17% of Churchgoers Still Attend, Poll Says
While schools and businesses all over the world have closed their doors to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, many churchgoers have continued to attend services in person.
Some houses of worship, from the Vatican to storefront mosques, have switched to virtual gatherings, but according to a Buzzfeed poll conducted last week by three political scientists, 22% of respondents said they had been “encouraged” to attend in-person worship “because of the virus.” The study also found that 17% of respondents were actually still going.
The survey polled 1,038 people from all over the country, who said they attend a house of worship “more often than never.” It’s not exactly known if the 17% of people still attending services are meeting in smaller worship settings that follow the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations, but based on some recent reports, it’s clear that there are still hundreds of worshipers ignoring social distancing guidelines.
Last week, nearly three dozen people who attended a church event at First Assemblies of God Church in Greers Ferry, Arkansas, tested positive for COVID-19. Of the 34 who tested positive, 31 are either church staff or members of the church.
On Friday, a church in Chicago said 43 people reported symptoms related to the virus after a church service on March 15. At least 10 of those people thave tested positive for the virus so far.
Hundreds Gather in Louisiana
While President Donald Trump has recommended against gatherings of more than 10 people, many states have laid out their own specific social distancing rules. Still, some are choosing to deliberately defy them.
Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana is one preacher in particular who has made headlines for hosting mass gatherings. On March 17, he went against Gov. Jon Bel Edwards’ order that banned groups larger than 50 from gathering at one time, including churches.
Spell hosted a Tuesday service for around 300 people, arguing at the time that the virus was “not a concern,” and adding that he believes it is “politically motivated.”
“People are still going to work, still going to the mall. I encountered more people in Target today then I did during my service last night,” he later told CNN. “It’s persecution of the faith for me not to have my worship service and yet I am allowed to go out in public and shop. Why is there one standard for commerce and another for religion?”
He also boasted about gathering a larger crowd of nearly 1,200 the Sunday before, adding that he had 27 busses picking people up. His services have reportedly continued as normal, with Spell even hosting baptisms and laying hands to heal the sick.
Once the media began reporting on Spell’s services, he said several church members were suspended from work after employers feared they would spread the virus. Yet still, this past Sunday over 550 people packed themselves inside the church.
According to the Associated Press, assistant ministers and other churchgoers stood outside the front doors and in the parking lot telling reporters to leave. They said cameras would not be allowed on the property and that they had been told not to talk to the media.
Spell later appeared and made a brief comment in the parking lot, saying they have a right to assemble. He also said the church is not forcing anyone to attend, is not breaking any laws, and will continue to hold services.
Spell has faced some backlash from people in the community, with some even signing a petition calling for him to be arrested and charged with reckless endangerment.
However, Spell isn’t the only one in Louisiana hosting church-related gatherings. On Saturday, police in New Orleans broke up a funeral repast of about 100 people. Police issued a warrant for a 28-year-old man who refused to shut it down after he was asked. The leader of the band that was playing during the gathering was also issued a summons for his participation.
“People who violate the ban are being selfish and “grossly irresponsible,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Sunday afternoon in New Orleans. They “take the time and attention of first responders and make it much more likely that this disease will continue to spread,” he said
Florida and Ohio
In Florida, The River at Tampa Bay Church held a Sunday service live stream, which showed worshipers gathered close together. Still, Rev. Rodney Howard-Browne said attendees were practicing “social distancing, or whatever.”
“We are not a nonessential service,” Howard-Browne said during the service. “You’re probably going to get infected at some other place, not here.”
He also condemned scientific reports about the virus and peddled the debunked idea that this pandemic was of less concern than the flu.
The church said in a statement on its web site that it felt it was important to remain open for people in need of comfort, saying it is sanitizing and cleaning all surfaces.
“In a time of national crisis, we expect certain institutions to be open and certain people to be on duty. We expect hospitals to have their doors open 24/7 to receive and treat patients. We expect our police and firefighters to be ready and available to rescue and to help and to keep the peace. The Church is another one of those essential services. It is a place where people turn for help and for comfort in a climate of fear and uncertainty,” the church said in the statement.
Meanwhile, Solid Rock Church in Lebanon, Ohio also held services Sunday in defiance of a letter from the local health department urging it not to meet after community complaints, according to a local news report. The church, in a statement, cited its First Amendment right to religious assembly.
Religious gatherings were explicitly exempted by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s order against gatherings of more than 10 people. However, DeWine also tweeted a plea to religious leaders last week saying, “We did not order religious organizations to close, but my message to EVERYONE is that this is serious. When you are coming together, whether in a church or wherever – this is dangerous.”
But Americans aren’t the only ones continuing to attend in-person worship services. Sunday services were held at some of Russia’s largest religious sites after Orthodox church leaders said they were an expression of religious freedom.
According to the Guardian, dozens of parishioners, many of them elderly, crowded into Kazan Cathedral in St Petersburg to receive communion. However, later in the day, the church’s leader, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, called on people to refrain from visiting churches.
In Romania and Georgia, two countries with strongly Orthodox Christian populations, some priests have insisted on continuing to use a shared spoon for the communion ritual.
Last Sunday, the day after Romania had been put into a strict lockdown, footage emerged from the city of Cluj of priests using a shared spoon. In Georgia, while the church has told people not to spend long periods of time in churches and not to come if sick, it has rejected calls to abandon the reusing of spoons. Instead, it claimed that as communion is a holy ceremony it is not possible to get ill during it.
Conservatives Slam Elmo For Getting Vaccinated Against COVID-19
While critics accused the muppet of promoting propaganda, CDC data shows the shots are safe and effective.
Elmo Gets Vaccinated
Conservative politicians expressed outrage on Twitter after the beloved “Sesame Street” character Elmo revealed he got vaccinated against COVID-19 on Tuesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently cleared the way for children between the ages of six months and five years to get vaccinated against the virus. The famous red muppet is three years old, making him finally eligible for the jab.
In a video shared by “Sesame Street,” Elmo said that he felt “a little pinch, but it was okay.”
Elmo’s father, Louie, then addressed parents who might be apprehensive about vaccinating their own kids.
“I had a lot of questions about Elmo getting the COVID vaccine,” he said to the camera. “Was it safe? Was it the right decision? I talked to our pediatrician so I could make the right choice.”
“I learned that Elmo getting vaccinated is the best way to keep himself, our friends, neighbors, and everyone else healthy and enjoying the things they love,” he continued.
Republicans Criticize “Sesame Street”
While some praised the video for raising awareness and addressing the concerns parents may have, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx) quickly lambasted the effort.
“Thanks, Sesame Street for saying parents are allowed to have questions,” Cruz tweeted. “You then have Elmo aggressively advocate for vaccinating children UNDER 5. But you cite ZERO scientific evidence for this.”
Despite Cruz’s claim, the CDC has provided ample resources with information on vaccines for children.
He was not alone in criticizing the video. Harmeet Dhillon, a committeewoman of the Republican National Committee for California, suggested that Elmo would be taking puberty blockers next.
Other anti-vaxxers claimed Elmo would get myocarditis and accused “Sesame Street” of promoting propaganda.
COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be both safe and effective against transmission of the virus, but this is not the first time conservatives have turned their anger against a friendly-looking muppet who opted to get the jab. When Big Bird got vaccinated in November, Cruz and other right-wing figures accused the show of brainwashing kids.
Big Bird’s choice to get vaccinated was not a shocker though, clips dating back to 1972 show him getting immunized against the measles.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Hill) (Market Watch)
Uvalde Puts Police Chief on Leave, Tries to Kick Him Off City Council
If Pete Arredondo fails to attend two more consecutive city council meetings, then he may be voted out of office.
Police Chief Faces Public Fury
Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo was placed on administrative leave Wednesday following revelations that he and his officers did not engage the shooter at Robb Elementary for over an hour despite having adequate weaponry and protection.
Superintendent Hal Harrell, who made the announcement, did not specify whether the leave is paid or unpaid.
Harrell said in a statement that the school district would have waited for an investigation to conclude before making any personnel decisions, but chose to order the administrative leave because it is uncertain how long the investigation will take.
Lieutenant Mike Hernandez, the second in command at the police department, will assume Arredondo’s duties.
In an interview with The Texas Tribune earlier this month, Arredondo said he did not consider himself in charge during the shooting, but law enforcement records reviewed by the outlet indicate that he gave orders at the scene.
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told state senators on Tuesday that some officers wanted to enter the classrooms harboring the shooter but were stopped by their superiors.
He said officer Ruben Ruiz tried to move forward into the hallway after receiving a call from his wife Eva Mireles, a teacher inside one of the classrooms, telling him she had been shot and was bleeding to death.
Ruiz was detained, had his gun taken away, and was escorted off the scene, according to McCraw. Mireles later died of her wounds.
Calls for Arredondo to resign or be fired have persisted.
Emotions Erupt at City Council
Wednesday’s announcement came one day after the Uvalde City Council held a special meeting in which community members and relatives of victims voiced their anger and demanded accountability.
“Who are you protecting?” Asked Jasmine Cazares, sister of Jackie Cazares, a nine-year-old student who was shot. “Not my sister. The parents? No. You’re too busy putting them in handcuffs.”
Much of the anger was directed toward Arredondo, who was not present at the meeting but was elected to the city council on May 7, just over two weeks before the massacre.
“We are having to beg ya’ll to do something to get this man out of our faces,” said the grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza, a 10-year-old victim. “We can’t see that gunman. That gunman got off easy. We can’t take our frustrations out on that gunman. He’s dead. He’s gone. … Ya’ll need to put yourselves in our shoes, and don’t say that none of ya’ll have, because I guarantee you if any of ya’ll were in our shoes, ya’ll would have been pulling every string that ya’ll have to get this man off the council.”
One woman demanded the council refuse to grant Arredondo the leave of absence he had requested, pointing out that if he fails to attend three consecutive meetings the council can vote him out for abandoning his office.
“What you can do right now is not give him, if he requests it, a leave of absence,” she said. “Don’t give him an out. We don’t want him. We want him out.”
After hearing from the residents, the council voted unanimously not to approve the leave of absence.
On Tuesday, Uvalde’s mayor announced that Robb Elementary is set to be demolished, saying no students or teachers should have to return to it after what happened.
We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.
Texas Public Safety Director Says Police Response to Uvalde Shooting Was An “Abject Failure”
New footage shows officers prepared to engage the shooter one hour before they entered the classroom.
Seventy-Seven Deadly Minutes
Nearly a month after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers, evidence has emerged indicating that police were prepared to engage the shooter within minutes of arriving, but chose to wait over an hour.
The shooting at Robb Elementary began at 11:33 a.m., and within three minutes 11 officers are believed to have entered the school, according to surveillance and body camera footage obtained by KVUE and the Austin American Statesman.
District Police Chief Pete Arredondo reportedly called a landline at the police department at 11:40 a.m. for help.
“It’s an emergency right now,” he said. “We have him in the room. He’s got an AR-15. He’s shot a lot… They need to be outside the building prepared because we don’t have firepower right now. It’s all pistols.”
At 11:52 a.m., however, the footage shows multiple officers inside the school armed with at least two rifles and one ballistic shield.
Law enforcement did not enter the adjoined classrooms to engage the shooter until almost an hour later, at 12:50 p.m. During that time, one officer’s daughter was inside the classrooms and another’s wife, a teacher, reportedly called him to say she was bleeding to death.
Thirty minutes before law enforcement entered the classrooms, the footage shows officers had four ballistic shields in the hallway.
Frustrated Cops Want to Go Inside
Some of the officers felt agitated because they were not allowed to enter the classrooms.
One special agent at the Texas Department of Public Safety arrived about 20 minutes after the shooting started, then immediately asked, “Are there still kids in the classrooms?”
“It is unknown at this time,” another officer replied.
“Ya’ll don’t know if there’s kids in there?” The agent shot back. “If there’s kids in there we need to go in there.”
“Whoever is in charge will determine that,” the other officer responded.
According to an earlier account by Arredondo, he and the other officers tried to open the doors to the classrooms, but found them both locked and waited for a master key to arrive. But surveillance footage suggests that they never tried to open the doors, which a top Texas official has confirmed were never actually locked.
One officer has told reporters that within minutes of the police response, there was a Halligan bar, which firefighters use to break down locked doors, on-site, but it was never used.
At a special State Senate committee hearing Monday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw called the police response an “abject failure” and “antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.”
“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from (entering rooms) 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children,” he said. “The officers have weapons, the children had none.”