U.S. health officials on Thursday released some of their long-delayed guidance that schools, businesses and other organizations can use as states reopen from coronavirus shutdowns.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted six one-page “decision tool” documents that use traffic signs and other graphics to tell organizations what they should consider before reopening.
The tools are for schools, workplaces, camps, childcare centers, mass transit systems, and bars and restaurants. The CDC originally also authored a document for churches and other religious facilities, but that wasn’t posted Thursday. The agency declined to say why.
Early versions of the documents included detailed information for churches wanting to restart in-person services, with suggestions including maintaining distance between parishioners and limiting the size of gatherings. The faith-related guidance was taken out after the White House raised concerns about the recommended restrictions, according to government emails obtained by The Associated Press and a person inside the agency who didn’t have permission to talk with reporters and spoke on condition of anonymity.
On Thursday, a Trump administration official also speaking on condition of anonymity said there were concerns about the propriety of the government making specific dictates to places of worship.
And Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, said “protections against religious discrimination aren’t suspended during an emergency. This means the federal government cannot single out religious conduct as somehow being more dangerous or worthy of scrutiny than comparable secular behavior.”
President Donald Trump has championed religious freedom as a way to connect with conservative evangelical voters and has shown eagerness for in-person religious services to restart. He consulted interfaith leaders last month for suggestions on how to reopen and said on a recent Fox News town hall that “we have to get our people back to churches, and we’re going to start doing it soon.”
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The CDC drafted the reopening guidance more than a month ago and it was initially shelved by the administration, the AP reported last week.
The agency also had prepared even more extensive guidance — about 57 pages of it — that has not been posted.
That longer document, which the AP obtained, would give different organizations specifics about how to reopen while still limiting spread of the virus, including by spacing workers or students 6 feet apart and closing break rooms and cafeterias to limit gatherings. Many of the suggestions already appear on federal websites but they haven’t been presented as reopening advice.
Some health experts and politicians have been pushing for the CDC to release as much guidance as possible to help businesses and organizations decide how to proceed.