Editorial: Health officials should get involved with church that vows to reopen

  • Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has cautioned churches that holding services despite the stay-at-home protocol is "potentially putting hundreds of people in danger."

    Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has cautioned churches that holding services despite the stay-at-home protocol is "potentially putting hundreds of people in danger." Associated Press File Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 5/13/2020 8:30 AM

When the leadership at Northwest Bible Baptist Church in Elgin decided it would reopen the church for regular services this coming Sunday, it called the Kane County sheriff. The second call should have been to the Kane County Health Department.

While we appreciate the abundance of safeguards the church leaders pledge to keep parishioners safe from COVID-19, we are urging the Kane County Health Department and state's attorney to get involved.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Sheriff Ron Hain told Daily Herald reporter Jerry Fitzpatrick that short of a court order, he would not move to stop the service. That was important for church leaders to know, but even more important is knowing whether public health experts consider the church's safety measures adequate -- both for its own members and for the community at large.

Based on the expert advisers he's listening to, the governor certainly doesn't think so.

"You're potentially putting hundreds of people in danger," he said at his daily news conference, speaking to all churches in Illinois. "It's not just about yourself; it's about the many who will attend and ... the many people who will come in contact with the people who attended those services."

Northwest Bible Baptist says it will require masks be worn, and is asking parishioners 65 and older to stay home and watch the service online. Temps will be taken at the door and anyone with symptoms will be refused entry. The church will use alternate-row seating and have hand-sanitizer available.

If state health officials thought those precautions were adequate, it would be a simple thing to allow churches all over Illinois to reopen as long as they follow them. Not surprisingly, that hasn't happened. One reason is the precautions don't adequately protect against asymptomatic carriers of the virus. Another is that no matter how much they pledge to remain 6 feet apart, people will be thrilled to see each other, even hug each other. It's human nature.

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Are we sympathetic to parishioners and churches who miss each other and need each other? Without a doubt. This virus is wringing a lot out of all of us. We're physically separated from our houses of worship, our families, our education, our livelihoods. The very foundation of our lives feels like it is cracking beneath our feet.

This is precisely why we need our leaders -- both church and state -- to lead.

The health department, state's attorney, church and sheriff should be a voice of unity toward one goal, keeping everyone safe. Our citizenry deserves no less.

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