WASHINGTON, DC -- President Donald Trump has deemed houses of worship "essential" businesses and called on governors to allow them to reopen this weekend despite the threat of the coronavirus.
“Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services," Trump said during a last-minute, hastily arranged press briefing on Friday.
“The governors need to do the right thing,” Trump said. “... If they don’t do it, I will override the governors.”
It is unclear what authority, if any, the president has to do so.
He said reopening churches is critical to the nation's "psyche" and accused Democratic governors of not treating churches with "respect."
"Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics essential, but have left our churches and houses of worship. It's not right. So I'm correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential," Trump said during his announcement at the White House.
The president said that at his direction, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will provide the guidance.
The anticipated release of the new federal guidance on in-person religious services comes at a precarious point in the national balancing act that pits the call of worship against the risk of coronavirus.
The new advice could energize houses of worship that might want to reopen their doors, despite evidence of ongoing risk of the virus spreading through communal gatherings.
Here are Friday's other developments in Washington:
-- With the U.S. death toll from Covid-19 close to 95,000 as the Memorial Day weekend begins, President Trump has ordered all flags on government buildings lowered to half-staff through Sunday "for every life lost to the coronavirus pandemic."
His order came after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to him requesting flags be lowered when the death toll reaches reaches 100,000, as experts estimate will happen by the end of the month -- what the Democratic congressional leaders called a "sad day of reckoning."
-- A new study of 96,000 patients hospitalized on six continents published Friday in the medical journal the Lancet finds that people treated with hyroxychloroquine -- the unproven drug treatment Trump has touted as a "game changer" -- had a higher risk of dying from an irregular heart rhythm than those who didn't take the antimalarial medication, as reported in The Washington Post.
The president has said that he would finish his last dose of a two-week course of what he calls "the hyrdroxy" Friday.