Guidance on church reopening held up in dispute between CDC, White House

Guidance on reopening houses of worship has been put on hold after a disagreement between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House, a senior administration official confirmed.

The news was first reported by The Washington Post, which stated that the White House was resistant to putting limits on religious institutions.

"The CDC sometimes views things in an overly bureaucratic way. What we are trying to do is encourage a more federalist approach where each state is able to make decisions based on their own circumstances and individually tailored needs," the senior administration official told NBC News.

The CDC this week released recommendations for reopening restaurants, mass transit, schools and child care programs across the United States during the coronavirus pandemic.

There has been an ongoing struggle between the CDC and the White House over guidelines for reopening, with the White House expressing concerns that the CDC’s guidelines are too restrictive.

When asked earlier Wednesday why the latest guidelines do not include religious institutions, the president’s adviser Kellyanne Conway said “we are working on those” and added the timing “should be soon.”

The senior administration official said that the administration was trying to empower states to make their own decisions.

The Justice Department has weighed in on some local rules.

On Tuesday, it sent a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom expressing civil rights concerns over the treatment of churches under a state coronavirus order and how soon they could be allowed to resume in-person services. Federal judges have refused efforts to block the state rule.

States and individual places of worship across the country are making timetables to return.

“Like restaurants, department stores, and schools, President Trump and all Americans want to see their churches safely open again," White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a statement.

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"Not only is it good for the community, it’s their right under the Constitution to worship freely without government intrusion," Deere said. "The Trump Administration will always protect that right and continue to partner with states to ensure congregations are properly protected as restrictions are responsibly eased.”

The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.

In some places, churches have held services despite rules forbidding in-person services.

A congregant who attended a May 10 service at a Butte County, California, church received a positive COVID-19 test result the next day, the county health department said. More than 180 attended that Mother's Day service.

In Texas, where churches are not barred from having in-person services, all Masses were canceled at a Houston-area church after five members of a religious order who shared a residence with a priest who died later tested positive, the archdiocese said this week. It was not clear if the priest who died was ever tested.

As of Wednesday night, the coronavirus illness COVID-19 had been confirmed in more than 1.5 million people in the United States, with more than 93,700 deaths linked to the disease, according to an NBC News count.