The governor of Illinois has said he will continue to ban public gatherings of more than 50 people—including religious services—until a vaccine or treatment for coronavirus is available.
The announcement comes as the White House is reported to have shelved guidance from the Centers for Disease Control on gradually reopening sections of the American economy and society.
Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday that gatherings of more than 50 people in the state would not be allowed until a coronavirus vaccine “or highly effective treatment” is “widely available.”
Public health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have cautioned that a COVID-19 vaccine is at least 12 to 18 months from being developed and made available.
According to Pritzker’s five-part plan for reopening the state, gatherings of ten or fewer people are not even allowed until phase 3, the “recovery” phase that can begin, at earliest, May 29. However, following a lawsuit last week, the governor has allowed citizens to leave their homes for religious services as long as ten or fewer people are gathered for worship.
Previously, religious services of any kind in the state—including drive-in and in-person services—were curtailed during the pandemic, and even other forms of sacramental practice such as drive-in confessions were not allowed.
The Archdiocese of Chicago announced on May 1 that public Masses with 10 or fewer people would resume.
Other dioceses across the United States have already begun rolling back total suspensions on the public celebration of Mass.
Last week, CNA reported that the White House Domestic Policy Council held a series of conference calls with bishops who had begun the process of reopening churches in line with local public health orders.
During the calls, administration officials expressed their hope to be able to support faith communities with “sensitive and respectful guidance” to help restore public worship “as soon as it is feasible.”
The bishops were told that the Centers for Disease Control hoped that issuing guidance could help inform state and local leaders about the “essential” nature of religious practice, while still allowing for localized responses to the coronavirus and provide “helpful parameters” for state and local governments who are trying to safeguard public health. But, on Thursday, AP reported that the Trump administration had shelved a 17-page report titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework.”
That document included a section on “Interim Guidance for Communities of Faith.”
According to AP, CDC officials expected the guidance to be released at the end of last week but were instead told it “would never see the light of day.”
Peter Breen, executive director of the Thomas More Society, told CNA that “policymakers that are making plans based on the development of a vaccine or other cure to this coronavirus are engaging in magical thinking.”
“While there is always a possibility that some miracle cure may emerge, that is entirely uncertain and should not be the basis for setting policy, especially policy in relation to our communities of faith,” Breen stated.
On April 30, the Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit on behalf of The Beloved Church in Lena, Illinois, and by that night, attorney Peter Breen told CNA, a paragraph had been added to an executive order of Pritzker’s allowing for people to leave their home for religious services.
“He [Pritzker] has at least brought churches out of the abyss of ‘non-essential,’ but he has not fully elevated them to the heights of being an ‘essential’ business or operation,” Breen told CNA on Wednesday, noting that businesses deemed “essential” to remain open were not subject to the 10-person rule.