The White House is Overruling Experts, Putting Churchgoers at Risk

Houses of worship are vital places we lean on for strength, we shouldn’t turn them into hotspots for coronavirus

Andy Slavitt
Medium Coronavirus Blog
5 min readMay 30, 2020


Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

With 102,000 Covid-19 deaths, we are busy creating the conditions for tomorrow’s outbreaks. There are many things we should feel optimistic about in our fight against Covid-19. Science, more testing, masks and other interventions give us reason to believe we will be able to live alongside the virus while we try to cure it or prevent it.

And we are learning how Covid spreads. In the past week or so alone, we’ve learned:

  • That superspreaders (5–10% of infected) drive 80% of infections
  • That superspreader events are significant drivers (large crowds, bars, etc.)
  • That pre-existing conditions are especially dangerous — new evidence shows that 10% of Americans w diabetes who are hospitalized for Covid-19 die (there are 30 million Americans with diabetes)
  • 5% of middle aged people with Covid-19 are hospitalized
  • Choirs and singing, close quarters, and poorly circulating air all contribute to infection

The CDC whose job is to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, for all of those reasons, advised caution — no singing in houses of worship, no shared cups. But the White House protested.

This wasn’t a tough call for public health. Inviting older people and families in large numbers and close quarters to pray and sing together is a bad idea. The CDC recognizes this. As I hope many religious leaders will too.

We. Know. This. We’re not guessing.

But the White House overruled the CDC and made them issue new guidelines — removing advice against things that are obvious hazards like sharing cups and choirs. Instead the CDC was forced to add language about First Amendment Rights. I don’t really care what the CDC has to say about First Amendment rights. I care more about what they think about science.

I ran a federal agency under a different president. Occasionally you get comments from the White House on your documents. As scientists, these are the kind of comments you…



Andy Slavitt
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Former Medicare, Medicaid & ACA head for Pres. Barack Obama.