US President Donald Trump said on Friday that he has deemed churches and other houses of worship "essential" and called on governors across the country to allow them to reopen this weekend, even as some parts of the nation remain under coronavirus lockdown.
Despite the threat of further spreading the virus, Trump said that, "governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, for this weekend."
And he warned that if governors don't abide by his request, he will "override" them, though it's unclear what authority he has to do so.
The dictate comes as Trump has been pushing for the country to reopen as he tries to stop an economic free fall months before he faces reelection.
White evangelical Christians have been among the most loyal members of the president's base, and the White House has been careful to attend to religious communities' concerns over the course of the crisis, including holding numerous conference calls with them.
Following Trump's announcement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for communities of faith that include taking steps to limit the size of gatherings and considering holding services outdoors or in large, well-ventilated areas.
Public health agencies have generally advised people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and encouraged Americans to remain 6 feet away from others when possible.
Trump stressed the importance of churches in many communities and took issue with other businesses and services that have been allowed to continue to operate.
In-person religious services have been vectors of transmission of the virus.
A person who attended a religious service on Mother's Day at a church in Northern California that defied the governor's orders against reopening later tested positive for the coronavirus, exposing more than 180 churchgoers.