NIH director implores religious leaders to close places of worship amid COVID-19 surge

NIH director implores religious leaders to close places of worship amid COVID-19 surge
© Greg Nash

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins on Thursday called on churches to move to virtual services as the country experiences new rapid surges in coronavirus infections. 

“I know people are tired of hearing these messages and having to be acting upon them, but the virus does not care that we’re tired,” Collins said in a Zoom conversation with Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

“The virus is having a wonderful time right now spreading through this country taking advantage of circumstances where people have let their guard go down,” he added. “We need to be just absolutely, rigorously adherent to things that we know work, but they don’t work unless everybody actually sticks to them faithfully without exception.” 


“Churches gathering in person is a source of considerable concern and has certainly been an instance where super-spreading has happened and could happen again,” continued Collins, who said he's a churchgoer himself. “So, I think most churches ought to be advised, if they’re not already doing so, to go to remote, virtual kinds of services.” 

“We are, as Christians, called not to be observers, but to be participants in getting past this and dealing with the needs for attending to the sick and suffering,” he said, adding that people can do this by wearing masks and following other safety guidelines amid the pandemic. 

The NIH head also called on Christians not to see a mask mandate as “a political statement” or “an invasion of your personal freedom," calling a face covering "a lifesaving device."

“When you put on that mask, you’re protecting yourself from other people, but mostly you’re protecting them from yourself. You’re doing the altruistic, loving thing of saying, ‘I’m going to protect people from me.’ And that’s a Christian action if ever I’ve heard one.”

The comments came the same day the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a California church that violated Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomNewsom vows crackdown: Rail car looting like 'third-world country' These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 California bill would let children 12 and up get COVID-19 vaccine without parent's approval MORE’s (D) ban on indoor religious services. 


California’s current health order mandates the closure of several indoor businesses, including religious services, in counties in its highest tier, areas that have more more than seven COVID-19 new daily cases per 100,000 people.

The high court decision followed a similar November ruling in favor of Christian and Jewish houses of worship that challenged New York state restrictions in coronavirus hot spots.

Following the New York decision, a California pastor said his community had a “biblical mandate” to gather for services indoors in defiance of state health orders, committing to continue allowing members of the congregation to gather for indoor services. 

The U.S. on Thursday recorded a total of more than 14 million coronavirus infections, averaging about 1 million new cases every six days over the past month. As of Friday, the country has had more than 276,000 deaths due to the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.