More than 1,200 people attended services at a Louisiana church, again defying the governor's coronavirus ban against more than 50 people gathering. Tony Spell has continued to hold services all month atin Baton Rouge – even as the coronavirus spreads throughout the United States.
More than 143,500 people have tested positive in the U.S. and as of Monday morning, the nation's death toll was over 2,500. However, the devastating nature of the virus has not dissuaded Spell from holding services on Sunday, despite experts saying social distancing could help slow down the spread of COVID-19 infections.
Spell told CBS News that 1,265 people went to his church on Sunday and defended their assembly. "We have a constitutional right to congregate," Spell said in an email on Monday. "We will continue."
He said they disinfect the venue daily and even boasted that it's "cleaner" than open gas stations, Walmart and Sam's Club. Spell offered a "no comment" when asked whether his church was still collecting donations.
Earlier this month, after a weekday service, he caught criticism for his controversial remarks when he told CBS affiliate WAFB that the coronavirus was "not a concern."
"The virus, we believe, is politically motivated," Spell told WAFB. "We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says."
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards banned any gatherings of more than 50 people to reduce the risk of spreading the virus — a restriction that applies to religious congregations. CBS News reached out to the governor's office for a comment on the church gatherings, but did not immediately hear back.
Meanwhile, a Florida church was jammed with worshippers despite a local "safer-at-home" order designed to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidelines earlier this month that recommended against "large events and mass gatherings" that can contribute the spread of COVID-19. President Trump has guidelines until April 30.