The number of coronavirus cases in the US passed 556,000 on Sunday, a day when millions of Americans were forced to observe the Easter holiday in the shadow of the pandemic.
It was an Easter Sunday like none other. Many churches marked the holiday in a way that honored social distancing efforts, like streaming services online or holding worship in-drive theaters , congregants huddled in their cars.
But some planed to gather anyway, putting public health restrictions on a collision course with religious institutions.
The country has recorded at least 22,073 and 556,044 cases so far during the pandemic, according to data from Johnson Hopekings university All 50 states are under a federal disaster declaration for the first time in US history.
On Saturday night, the Justice Department said it expect to action this week against regulations on religious institution as states and local governments try to curtail gatherings.
Various courts are already hearing cases about the regulations, but the department said it may file lawsuits alongside churches.
In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the state amended a public health order banning mass gatherings to include houses of worship.
“The risk is simply too great,” the Governer said on twitter Saturday. She said she was “so grateful for the support & cooperation from the vast majority of religious leaders of all faiths who have already made the difficult decision to cancel services in the interest of public health.”
In Kentucky, authorities said they would record license plates of those who show up to any gatherings and hand that information over to the local health department. That will require those people to stay quarantined for 14 days, Gov. Andy Beshear said.
The mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, tried to stop a church from holding a drive-in Easter service, even though drive-in liquor stores are still permitted under the state’s stay-at-home policy. A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order Saturday that overturned the effort.
In New York, at least 758 people died on Saturday, bringing the statewide death toll to 9,385, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, adding the death rate there has flattened “at a terribly high rate.”
“That’s the one number that I look forward to seeing drop as soon as I open my eyes in the morning,” he said in a news conference Sunday.
But despite the bleak news, Cuomo shared a message of hope likening the pandemic to a “cold winter, where the earth becomes barren,” that will eventually give way to spring.
“We will come back to life, and we will have a rebirth,” he said. “And that’s what spring is all about.”
President Donald Trump approved a disaster declaration Saturday for Wyoming, the final state to get one. It makes federal funds available to supplement state and local efforts to deal with the pandemic.
A state declaration of disaster also focuses the entire state government on the emergency and heightens awareness. Declarations also allow governors to sidestep certain laws and regulations.
The US Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, Washington, DC, Guam and Puerto Rico have also been declared disasters.
Cuomo said he will sign an executive order directing employers to provide essential workers with a cloth or surgical face mask — free of cost to the worker — when they are interacting with the public.