NIH Director tells churches to stay closed as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations rise in US

AS COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths reach record levels across the country, a top health official is urging places of worship to remain closed.

“Church is gathering in person, a source of considerable concern and has certainly have been an instance where super spreading has happened and could happen again, so I think most churches really ought to be advised, if they’re not already doing so, to go to remote virtual kind of services,” Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said in a Zoom press conference on Thursday with Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health leaves after appearing before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to discuss vaccines and protecting public health during the coronavirus pandemic on Sep

“I do sympathize with people trying to sort this through with those concerns, which I certainly hear and I’m sure pastors do in every church across this country and across the world,” Collins, a regular churchgoer, acknowledged.

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His comments came even as the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a federal district court to reexamine its previous support for restrictions on indoor religious services in California, according to NPR.

Collins mentioned that the good news is that help is on the way with potential vaccines close to a point of receiving approval for emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.

“For the two vaccines that are furthest along, Pfiizer and Moderna, we were delighted, thrilled, amazed to see that it looked like the effectiveness was about 95 percent. That is so much better than what you can expect to see with a new illness of this sort,” Collins said.

There will be a public meeting on Dec. 10 to discuss the Pfizer vaccine regarding safety and efficacy.

His warning comes after a national group that represents more than 20,000 evangelical Christian health care professionals recently urged churches to halt in-person services as coronavirus cases surge across the United States.

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The Christian Medical & Dental Association (CMDA) released a statement on Nov. 19 saying that the nation’s health care system is bearing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic.

“They are overworked because of the sheer volume of critically ill patients under their care and because many healthcare professionals have become ill with SARS-CoV-2 themselves," Jeffrey J. Barrows, senior vice president of bioethics and public policy for CMDA, wrote.

Barrows pointed to churches, celebrations and small gatherings with friends as the primary way health care workers were becoming infected with COVID-19.

CMDA previously released guidelines for churches to follow as the nation reopened from widespread shutdowns last spring, and since then, Barrows said the association has been “wrestling with the role God would have us play in this pandemic.”

RELATED: Evangelical doctors’ group urges churches to halt in-person services amid COVID-19 surge

Despite their best efforts, Barrows said the group learned that many churches ignored their guidelines and that congregants became infected with the virus as a result of those decisions.

CMDA urgently requested that churches strongly consider taking their services online and cancel in-person gatherings until the current surge of COVID-19 cases passes.