Deemed 'Essential,' Some Texas Houses Of Worship Stay Open Despite COVID-19 Threat
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?
- Kiah Collier, reporter with ProPublica and The Texas Tribune's investigative unit
- Vianna Davila, reporter with ProPublica and The Texas Tribune's investigative unit
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*This interview was recorded on Tuesday, April 7.