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Opinion The Trump administration’s reversal on church choirs turns a blind eye to science

An organist plays an Easter service. On May 23, the Trump administration’s recommendation to suspend or decrease choir use was eliminated from the CDC guidance.
An organist plays an Easter service. On May 23, the Trump administration’s recommendation to suspend or decrease choir use was eliminated from the CDC guidance. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Associated Press)
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GOING TO sing in a church choir this Sunday? First read about the unfortunate experience of 61 members of the Skagit Valley Chorale at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church in Skagit County, Wash., on the evening of March 10. They knew about the coronavirus and were careful to avoid handshakes and hugs. But in their singing practice, one super-spreader spilled coronavirus infection all over the place.

In 2½ hours of contact, the virus spread to 52 others, including 32 confirmed and 20 probable cases. Three were hospitalized and two died. The members, with a median age of 69 years old, were mostly women that night. They sat close to each other, shared snacks and stacked the chairs together, and their singing “might have contributed to transmission through emission of aerosols, which is affected by loudness of vocalization,” according to an account of the event published online May 12 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a publication of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

The story of the choir underscores why social distancing is vital and why people should avoid crowded, enclosed spaces and wear face masks to stop the viral spread. Thus, it was perfectly logical for the CDC to include in its “interim guidance for communities of faith” — posted on its website — the recommendation that churches consider “suspending or at least decreasing use of a choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services.” But then on May 23, the recommendation to suspend or decrease choir use was eliminated from the CDC guidance, a change made at the behest of the White House, Lena H. Sun and Josh Dawsey reported in The Post.

This is another example of the Trump administration politicizing public health and turning a blind eye to science. It is not the first time the White House has interfered to block or delay CDC guidance about the pandemic. In this case, White House officials complained the CDC recommendations were too restrictive. What’s really happening is a thinly veiled attempt to curry favor with conservative religious leaders in President Trump’s political base, some of whom have chafed at state public health limitations imposed in recent weeks.

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The modifications mean that the White House and CDC are withholding from the public important instructions about how to stay safe. The CDC should never have agreed to this political meddling, a blemish on its reputation for reliable public health communications. The CDC was right to warn about choirs in the first place — just ask those people from the Skagit Valley Chorale who came to a Tuesday evening practice.

Read more:

Tim Sharp: The pandemic shut down choirs. We’re finding new ways to sing together.

Gary Abernathy: What’s really behind Republicans wanting a swift reopening? Evangelicals.

Joseph Allen: We cannot keep ignoring the possibility of airborne transmission. Here’s how to address it.

The Post’s View: The coronavirus spreads in close quarters. That should factor into reopening decisions.

We need smart solutions to mitigate the coronavirus’s impact. Here are 40.

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