Update: On Monday, Rodney Howard-Browne, the pastor at The River at Tampa Bay Church, was arrested and jailed for violating Florida's stay-at-home order. According to jail records, Howard-Browne was charged with unlawful assembly and violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency. He posted bail within 30 minutes of his arrest.
This story was originally published on March 30, 2020 at 11:30 am.
A church in Florida has decided to forgo their county’s “safer-at-home” order — put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus throughout the state — and continue holding Sunday services. The River at Tampa Bay Church in Hillsborough County live streamed their morning service on Sunday, revealing to viewers at home that parishioners were packed side-by-side inside the church. The church not only remained open, but allowed a massive amount of people inside, directly violation of Hillsborough County’s “safer-at-home” order, which went into effect on Friday.
“In a time of national crisis, we expect certain institutions to be open and certain people to be on duty,” the statement reads. “We expect hospitals to have their doors open 24/7 to receive and treat patients. We expect our police and firefighters to be ready and available to rescue and to help and to keep the peace.”
They then went on to say that it would be “wrong for us to close our doors on them, at this time, or any time. In a time of crisis, people are fearful and in need of comfort and community, more than ever before.”
As the coronavirus has spread around the globe, The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has set strongly suggested rules in place that are meant to slow the rate at which it spreads. Social distancing guidelines, requiring that people stand at least six feet apart and remaining indoors, have been adopted by major cities around the world, with some local governments carrying out penalties for citizens who violate the order. The response from churches and other religious organizations regarding CDC regulations have been mixed — some churches are closing, while others aren’t. Other religious institutions, like mosques, have began closing their doors around the world in adherence to local and national regulations.
But, Florida as a whole has been slower to adapt to social distancing and self-quarantining guidelines. Across the state, nearly 5,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus and over 60 have died as of Monday. State beaches were recently open to spring breakers, and only just closed down after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shuttered beach access in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
DeSantis has also set in place a 14-day self-isolation period for Florida residents who have traveled out of state to Louisiana and returned. Now, as experts warn that coronavirus could lead to 200,000 fatalities in the U.S. alone, it's in the hands of state leaders to demand all businesses comply with CDC recommendations to slow the spread of the virus.