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Florida church jammed for Sunday service despite pandemic

CBS News logo CBS News 3/30/2020 CBSNews

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Video by WTSP-TV

A Florida church was packed with worshippers Sunday despite a local "safer-at-home" order designed to help curb the spread of COVID-19, reports CBS Tampa affiliate WTSP-TV. A live-stream of the service at The River at Tampa Bay Church showed its crowded main sanctuary.

WTSP says the sheriff told church leaders they were in direct violation of the order, which was  issued by Hillsborough County officials and went into effect Friday. It requires that businesses and organizations considered essential abide by social distancing guidelines and keep people six feet away from each other or shut down.

a group of people in a room: Service in The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida as seen on a livestream on YouTube on March 29, 2010. © Provided by CBS News Service in The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida as seen on a livestream on YouTube on March 29, 2010. Attorneys for local officials and the church were working to resolve things as quickly as possible, WTSP reported.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people stay six feet apart and not gather in groups of 50 or more, according to WTSP.

In a statement posted earlier this month on Facebook and on its website, the church explained why it's keeping its doors open when so many other places across the state and nation are closing. 

The statement read in part, "In a time of national crisis, we expect certain institutions to be open and certain people to be on duty. 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. The Church is another one of those essential services. It is a place where people turn for help and for comfort in a climate of fear and uncertainty.

"Therefore, we feel 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."

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