July 8, 2020

Churches have become a major source of coronavirus infections in smaller communities across the United States, even when health protocols are followed, The New York Times reports.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 650 cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the country, many of them occurring over the last month, per the Times. That number doesn't place church services as a leading source of infections on a national scale, but in certain places many cases can be traced to reopenings.

For example, when the Lighthouse United Pentecostal Church in Island City, Oregon, which is in the rural northeastern region of the state, reopened on May 22 there were only six confirmed coronavirus cases in the county. Now, there are 356 and the Times reports many of those can be traced to the church. Patients include the pastor and his wife, who was hospitalized. Dan Satterwhite, a pastor at an affiliated church in the neighboring town of Pendleton, said the outbreak likely stems from a wedding held at the church in Island City.

Religious leaders like Satterwhite are often placed in a difficult position. He said he initially livestreamed services, but congregants — including those who did not have reliable access to internet — were determined to return to in-person services. So far, social distancing and mask-wearing are common at Satterwhite's own church, but the risks remain. "I am trying to do the right thing," he said. "I know a lot of people don't feel this way, but those that do, feel that church is essential." Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

May 16, 2020

The Italian government approved a decree Saturday which will allow travel to and from abroad beginning on June 3. The move is the latest development in the country's emergence from one of the world's stricter coronavirus lockdowns.

The decree also allows for travel between regions on the same day. All sectors of the economy that might still be shuttered at the time will be allowed to re-open as long as they follow safety protocols. Meanwhile, travel within regions will start up again May 18, the day shops and restaurants are set to open, albeit under strict social distancing and hygiene rules. Religious services will resume then, as well.

Italy's 31,600 COVID-19 deaths since the outbreak began in February is the third-highest total in the world after the United States and the United Kingdom, but its infection rate has declined steadily. The government, unsurprisingly, will continue to monitor the situation as the restriction easing continues, and Italians are well aware of the challenge ahead of them. Read more at Reuters and BBC. Tim O'Donnell

April 11, 2020

Iran, which has experienced the worst novel COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, began easing restrictions Saturday after a nationwide lockdown was put in place following the end of the Nowruz Holiday on April 4.

Government offices outside Tehran re-opened, and two-thirds of employees went into work, while the rest remained remote. Women with young children were reportedly given priority to work at home if necessary. Businesses in Tehran will be allowed to open next Saturday, so long as they register with authorities and adhere to social distancing guidelines. The government reportedly expects to be dealing with the virus in some capacity until the fall.

Iran has confirmed more than 70,000 cases and 4,300 people, including senior Iranian officials, have died of the disease, although some observers have questioned both totals. Regardless, the government tried to resist wide-scale shutdowns, arguing quarantines could be devastating economically considering the country is already under the strain of U.S. sanctions put in place after the Trump administration withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal. Washington has offered humanitarian aid to help Iran fight the virus, but Tehran turned it down as part of an all or nothing approach when it comes to sanctions. Read more from The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

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