He added, “The act of singing can contribute to the transmission of Covid-19, perhaps through the emission of aerosols. “
On Saturday, this version was replaced by updated directives which no longer contain any reference to choirs or congregational song and the risk of the virus spreading. The amended guidelines also removed a reference to “shared cups” among the items, including hymns and worship rugs, which should not be shared. The updated guidelines also added language that the guidance “is not intended to infringe the rights protected by the First Amendment”.
Two White House officials said the first version released by the CDC had not been approved by the White House. Once West Wing officials saw it, they asked the CDC to post another authorized document without the references of the choir and other parties.
Officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about political discussions, said that the White House has long been concerned about the overly tight restrictions on choirs. A CDC official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the change in guideline also said that the updated guidelines on Saturday had been approved by the White House.
Earlier this month, the CDC released a report warning of “super spreader” events where the coronavirus could be “highly transmissible in certain contexts, including group singing events”. This report describes a choir practice in Washington State in March in which one person infected 52 others, two of whom died.
“The members had an intense and prolonged exposure, singing seated 6-10 inches apart, possibly emitting aerosols,” said the report. The infections likely occurred in a 2.5-hour choir attended by 61 members.
White House officials have been fighting for weeks with CDC help over the scope of the reopening of the guidelines. Officials in Vice President Pence’s office, the Home Political Council, and other members of the President’s coronavirus task force were reluctant to set boundaries on religious institutions, even though the CDC has published roadmaps detailed for the reopening of other settings, including schools and restaurants, and as an agency warned of the dangers of high virus transmission rates at religious events.
Some officials from the White House and the coronavirus working group did not want to alienate the evangelical community and felt that some of the proposals, such as the limits of the hymns, the size of the choirs or the passage of collection plates, were too restrictive , according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the political decisions.
Certain restrictions imposed by state governments have become a subject of contention for conservative religious leaders, a large group of President Trump’s political base.
Even as states have started to reopen, public health officials continue to warn of mass gatherings or places where people will be nearby, and note that religious rallies were behind several epidemics.
An epidemic in an Arkansas church has killed three and infected dozens, according to a CDC report. The epidemic began after a church pastor and his wife attended church events for six days in early March and spread the virus. At least 35 of the 92 participants in church events were infected, including the three who died, all over the age of 65. Another 26 infections and one death in the community were likely linked to contact with people infected during church events, the report said.