More than 550 parishioners packed Sunday service at the Life Tabernacle Church in the Louisiana town of Central. Megachurches in Ohio and Florida also reported their halls teeming with congregants. In Virginia, Liberty University last week welcomed back from spring break some 1,900 of students to its Lynchburg campus. These foolhardy, irresponsible decisions endanger not just those who attended the church services or resumed their college studies but untold others who now run the risk of the novel coronavirus being passed on to them and their families.
Efforts to stop the spread of the highly contagious disease, which medical experts warn could kill 100,000 to 200,000 Americans, have prompted a reordering of public life. Schools, businesses and local governments have shut as growing numbers of officials — as well as much of the public — take to heart the advice of public health professionals about avoiding gatherings and practicing social isolation.
Unfortunately, some don’t believe the scientific evidence or don’t think it applies to them. “It’s not a concern,” the pastor at Life Tabernacle Church said of the chance of infection. “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.” Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., who has blamed the media for hyping the threat of covid-19 to damage President Trump, framed his decision to reopen the evangelical college as a favor for students. “I think we have a responsibility to our students — who paid to be here, who want to be here, who love it here — to give them the ability to be with their friends, to continue their studies, enjoy the room and board they’ve already paid for and to not interrupt their college life,” he told the (Lynchburg) News & Advance.