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Deemed 'Essential,' Some Texas Houses Of Worship Stay Open Despite COVID-19 Threat

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As Texans practice social distancing and businesses close down to limit the spread of coronavirus, some religious facilities remain open for worship.

The pandemic has raised questions about which businesses and services are considered "essential" and allowed to continue operating, while those that are "non-essential" shutter in adherence to orders meant to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

Texas Gov. Abbott's statewide "stay-at-home" order exempts religious services, allowing houses of worship to convene in-person services if they can't move services online and continue to follow social distancing guidelines. The order overruled guidelines issued by by local governments like San Antonio/Bexar County, which had prohibited religious facilities from holding in-person services.

Are houses of worship "essential" to their communities, as some argue? How do state officials reconcile religion as an essential service with other strict rules enacted to curb transmission?

How many of Texas' houses of worship are still holding in-person services? Is there evidence of community spread attributable to any religious gatherings? How are congregations practicing social distancing?

How are religious institutions that have chosen to close their doors reacting to those that haven't? How are these faith leaders connecting with parishioners from afar?

At what point, if any, would the Governor's mandate be expanded to include churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious facilities? How are other states handling this issue?

Guests:

  • Kiah Collier, reporter with ProPublica and The Texas Tribune's investigative unit
  • Vianna Davila, reporter with ProPublica and The Texas Tribune's investigative unit

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call  833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org  or tweet @TPRSource.

*This interview was recorded on Tuesday, April 7.

Kim Johnson is the producer for Texas Public Radio’s live, call-in show The Source. She is a Trinity University alum with bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Spanish, and a Master of Arts Degree from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.