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Local health chief defends decision to limit church worship size in face of Trump edict

Marion County's current inside worship limit is 25
Posted at 1:28 AM, May 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-23 01:33:31-04

INDIANAPOLIS — President Donald Trump Friday called on states to lift, by this weekend, pandemic-related restrictions on houses of worship, saying they are "essential."

The president said he would "override" governors who defy him. But it does not appear Trump's edict will lead to changes in the temporary order in place that limits religious gatherings in Marion County to 25 people or less.

That order, which is in effect from May 15 to June 1, was issued by the Marion County Public Health Department in response to the COVID-19 threat.

Late Friday, Dr. Virginia Caine, Chief medical Officers and Director of the Health Department, gave this statement to WRTV when asked for comment on the president's directive:

“At all times during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Marion County Public Health Department (MCHPD) has worked to balance the critical mission of slowing the transmission of the coronavirus and Marion County residents’ interests in living their daily lives. As the public health officer for Marion County, I have an acute responsibility to protect the lives of our residents and the health of our community while only restricting activities that are necessary for that protection.

Indiana state law expressly permits MCPHD to order churches and schools closed and forbid public gatherings when considered necessary to prevent and stop epidemics. The most recent order, Public Health Order 10-2020, issued on May 15, allowed churches and religious institutions to reopen for services if they abide by the rules applicable for other public gatherings. The order in no way discriminates against religious exercise. Instead, it represents an increase from previous orders by the State of Indiana and Marion County in the number of people that may assemble for public gatherings, including for religious services.

Evidence clearly shows that gathering people together for in-person interaction poses a greater communicable disease threat than retail stores where people enter to make a purchase and then leave.

The president on Friday stressed the importance of churches and said he was “identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services.”

“These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united,” he added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report