Calling an April ban on in-person religious services of more than 10 people “arbitrary,” more than 190 pastors from across Nevada signed on to a letter Thursday urging Gov. Steve Sisolak to lift the ban and allow congregations to implement their own guidelines aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
Sisolak initiated the ban just days before Easter Sunday, amid reports that religious services in other states had spurred isolated coronavirus outbreaks in late March and early April.
In the time since, new evidence has emerged suggesting the spread of “superspreader” events in confined spaces with no ventilation, such as when a Washington choir practice led to 53 infections in a room of 62 attendees. Two of those 53 infected with the virus later died.
The letter says Sisolak’s order is one of the most restrictive in the country and “more burdensome” than it needs to be in order to slow the spread of the virus.
“We trust that you had good intentions when you issued this order,” the letter read, “We understand that it was your express purpose to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. However, the order went too far, especially when there are other policies and practices available that are not as restrictive.”
Citing a federal District Court’s decision that struck down a similar limitation in Kentucky, the letter calls Sisolak’s order “overbroad and not narrowly tailored” to preventing the spread of the disease.
The letter also said there is no evidence in Nevada that worship services have contributed to the spread of COVID-19, and that if people may continue to drive their cars to drive-in restaurants or work at construction sites or warehouses — assuming proper access to personal protective equipment and adherence to social distancing — then “houses of worship should be allowed to do the same.”
“During this crisis, we are sincere in our desire to sacrifice for others,” the letter read. “We understand the need to fastidiously maintain social distancing and the CDC hygiene routine that prevents the spread of COVID-19. Our churches are essential to preserving meaningful human community where people can receive care for their mind and soul, while at the same time receiving other services they provide.”
Though the total number of coronavirus cases reported in Nevada have continued to climb, the percentage of positive tests have fallen sharply over the past week as the state has entered “Phase 1” of its economic reopening plan.
Some businesses, including retailers, have opened their doors after two-months of mandated lockdowns. But many — including casinos, bars and other businesses where the risk of infection remains high — remain closed.