White House Pretty Sure You Can't Spread Coronavirus If You're Singing To Jesus


According to a recent report, up to 80 percent of all COVID-19 cases can be traced back to "superspreader" events -- events that involve a lot of people in close proximity talking loudly, singing and otherwise coming into contact with the viral droplets from the mouth of an infected person. While such "superspreader" events have included dance classes, conferences and bars, the biggest single events have been choir practices. Back in March, two choir practices at a Mount Vernon, Washington church resulted in 87 percent of the choir contracting COVID-19, a total of 53 infections and two deaths among members. An outbreak at an Arkansas church led to 35 of 92 members becoming infected, along with three related deaths. An additional 29 infections in the community were traced back to members of that church going on and spreading it to others.

Going to church is probably the least safe thing anyone can do these days, and it's extra-dangerous if a choir is involved. However! The White House and the CDC have removed warnings about the transmission of the virus through choral singing and other church activities in their guidance for churches in the time of coronavirus.

Last week, when the CDC initially posted guidelines for churches, they said:

Consider suspending or at least decreasing use of a choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition. The act of singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.

And also:

Consistent with the community's faith tradition, consider temporarily limiting the sharing of frequently touched objects that cannot be easily cleaned between persons, such as worship aids, prayer rugs, prayer books, hymnals, religious texts and other bulletins, books, shared cups, or other items received, passed or shared among congregants as part of services. Seek ways to uphold customs central to the practicing of one's faith that limit shared exposure to congregants. Consider photocopying or electronically sharing prayers, songs, and texts via e-mail or other digital technologies.

But by Saturday, any reference to choirs and singing were removed, as was the reference to "shared cups."

Why? Did it suddenly become totally safe to go to choir practice and share cups? Was there a new scientific discovery that prompted this? No. It's pretty much just that Trump doesn't want to upset evangelicals whose feelings might be hurt if they are told that choir practice could be dangerous. And because his polling among the faithful has gone to hell.

Some churches are not exactly doing a great job of following the few guidelines they're still being told to follow:

(if you can't see the whole tweet, click on the bird!)

According to White House officials who spoke to the Washington Post, the initial CDC guidelines had to be adjusted because the White House thought it was too tough on choirs:

Two White House officials said the first version posted by the CDC was not approved by the White House. Once West Wing officials saw it, they asked the CDC to post a different cleared document without the choir references and other parts.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about policy discussions, said there have long been concerns within the White House that there were too many restrictions on choirs. A CDC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the guideline change also said the updated Saturday guidance was approved by the White House.

The thing is, the CDC guidelines did not restrict choirs. They merely said that choirs were dangerous, which they are. You go to choir practice with someone who doesn't know they have COVID-19, and odds are you're going to get it. The CDC removing that from their guidelines doesn't make it not true. It's like telling people "it is totally fine for you to walk into traffic!" and then expecting them to not die (or cause someone else's death) if they walk into traffic. It doesn't make walking into traffic any less dangerous.

Clearly, people who don't give a crap about whether or not other people live or die have no problem defying guidelines and rules and mask requirements anyway, so it's hardly as if they'd care if the CDC told them not to sing in their church choir. They'll do it regardless of whether or not it's safe. However, there should still be some amount of informed consent involved, so that when they do come down with COVID-19, they can't whine that no one told them it was dangerous to sing in a choir.

[Washington Post]

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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