For weeks, Sean Feucht has presided over thousands of maskless worshipers experiencing the “joy of salvation” even as America grapples with the terror of the coronavirus pandemic. From California to Nashville, the evangelical leader challenged public health experts and local officials with his “Let Us Worship” tour – leaving behind fear of widespread contagion in already hard-hit areas.
Now Feucht’s grand finale is set for this weekend at the National Mall in Washington, DC, and federal officials appear to be doing nothing to stop Feucht and his (expected) 15,000 guests, with the National Park Service approving a request to hold a “Event or special event” without mention of guidelines to mitigate exposure to COVID-19.
“It’s shameful,” Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University who advises the World Health Organization, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “This violates DC’s COVID-19 plan and is almost certainly going to lead to a very widespread event – and cause many new cases, hospitalizations and even death. It violates virtually every principle to mitigate this pandemic. “
The fact that the rally was to be held about 1,200 meters from the White House, which hosted a mass-market event at the Rose Garden last month, underscored a federal government apparently content with letting the pandemic unleash itself, experts said .
But it is the residents and leaders of DC, who have long lacked meaningful federal representation, who are caught in the most immediate epidemiological crosshairs. Because the prayer event takes place at the National Mall, it is regulated by the National Park Service, not by city officials.
“It’s crazy,” DC resident Allison Lane told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “This is truly selfish behavior on the part of people who claim to be devoted to the word of God. I do not understand. The National Park Service is willfully ignorant.
To date, 624 people have died and 16,445 others have tested positive for the coronavirus in Washington, DC, according to the city’s health database. But the nation’s capital has a promising positive rate of 2% in Phase 2 of the city’s reopening plan, which bans gatherings of more than 50 people and encourages residents to work from home. Certain activities, such as attending places of worship, are allowed to go beyond this, but only if approved by a local exemption.
Lane, a 34-year-old woman who is president of advocacy group Bartenders Against Racism, added that while she tries to be objective when speaking to reporters, she thinks the weekend’s event does is nothing short of “fucking stupid”.
“It’s not even for a good cause. It is absolutely ridiculous. The National Park Service should do better. The DC government should do better. It is a source of attention for Sean Feucht ”, she added.
A copy of the event permit application obtained by The Daily Beast does not detail any precautionary measures in the event of a pandemic. A spokesperson for the National Park Service told The Daily Beast that “as with all permit applications, we are discussing the COVID-19 mitigation plan with the event organizers, but this plan is not a requirement or condition of the license.
“While the National Park Service strongly encourages social distancing, the use of masks and other measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, we will not ask for or impose them,” the spokesperson added. They also said that while the permit application for Sunday’s event was approved, it had not been issued as of Tuesday afternoon – but added that the delay was common for large and complex events, because it takes time to process all the security details.
Feucht did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Beast. The local health department returned a request for comment to the mayor’s office, which did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
The permit application lists the October 25 event as a demonstration hosted by the “Hold the Line” organization. Feucht’s personal website, which is also listed in the document, describes the organization as “a political activist movement seeking to rally the world church to engage in its civic duty – to vote and defend the causes of righteousness and of justice in the government arena. “
It was not immediately clear whether Feucht had submitted the permit application himself or the level of his involvement other than social media promotion. The app lists Mary Auxier, who coordinated an event for Feucht earlier this month in Dallas, under “Person in Charge” and Whitney Whitt as “Coordinator”. Neither Auxier nor Whitt immediately responded to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
But rather than a brief fringe appearance in a bustling city, the permit application painted the picture of a weekend-long epidemiological shit show.
The app covers the period from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and would allow the event to include speakers, portable toilets, three generators, a stage and a press riser – all of it. for “religious freedom, prayer and worship.” The request indicated that if donations would be solicited and some 15,000 people were expected, there would be no catering services.
“If he really believes he was called upon to organize these rallies then all the better, there is a nifty platform for it called Zoom.“
– Grace Bouwer, Charleston, SC
The event comes less than a month after Feucht was featured at another event at the Lincoln Memorial – where Vice President Mike Pence surprised the religious leader by making an appearance. At the Washington Prayer March event, which is said to have brought together some 75,000 people, Pence was seen joining the prayer with the crowd mostly without a mask.
Experts said that a federal agency approving an event like this, even as the pandemic escalated across the country, reflected a bigger problem at the highest level of government: officials believe America is at- above the virus.
In a campaign call on Monday, President Donald Trump insisted people are “tired” of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 220,000 Americans. Over the past month – and since his own diagnosis of COVID-19 – Trump has toured the United States and claimed the nation is ‘turning the corner’ on COVID-19, even though infections are now increasing with averages daily over 50,000 per day. Experts believe the spread of the virus will only get worse as winter approaches.
Trump recently went further, saying Americans are “tired” of reducing the virus – and even tried to criticize his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, for “listening to the scientists.”
This rhetoric, according to Gostin, is extremely alarming and suggests that the federal government has “simply given up on the COVID response.”
“They have evolved – but the virus has not evolved, and DC is going to pay that price this weekend,” the Georgetown professor said, adding that the Feucht event sends “a horrible message” to others. cities in the United States. that “life returns to normal”.
“To be clear, it’s not going back to normal anytime soon,” he continued. “It will get worse if we don’t follow basic guidelines.”
Basic guidelines do not appear to have been followed at any of Feucht’s recent appearances.
Last weekend, the Christian musician appeared at at least two events – one in Kansas City, which has hit a new record for cases in recent days, and again in Pittsburgh. A similar Feucht-affiliated event in Redding, Calif. On July 22 inspired fear among city leaders, as did that in Oakland, Maine late last month, where chief executive Gary Bowman told the Daily Beast that he was concerned the indoor rally could turn into a “superspreader” event. Other Feucht events hit cities across the country including Seattle, Oregon, Colorado, Charleston, Nashville, and Florida.
A video posted to Feucht’s YouTube channel from the Nashville event showed adults, teens and even toddlers singing, laughing and crying together in a courthouse. There were colorful T-shirts, baptisms, clasped hands and loud chants of God’s love, while Feucht preached about the power of prayer over depression and hardship.
Missing in particular: masks and attempts at social distancing.
Grace Bouwer, a Charleston resident who once lived in the nation’s capital, told the Daily Beast it was “incredibly frustrating to see” Feucht’s mass services continue like this. As a practicing Christian, Bouwer stressed that there needs to be a “balance” between trusting God to overcome the ongoing pandemic and following health guidelines to keep others safe.
“I don’t think Sean Feucht finds the right balance there. If he really believes he’s been called upon to organize these rallies then all the better, there’s a nifty platform for it called Zoom, ”the 28-year-old told The Daily Beast. “Sean is the type of right-wing conservative Christian who takes a message like ‘Black Lives Matter’, something that Christians [and everyone] should feel comfortable saying unequivocally, and using it to scare and rally his base, and ultimately what you are seeing is Christians who are far from God’s call to righteousness.
The precise epidemiological impact of previous “Let Us Worship” events was still under discussion. Brian Todd, a spokesperson for the City of Nashville Metro Public Health Department, told the Daily Beast that while the city has not definitively linked any confirmed cases to the religious event, several attendees were living out of state, “so it’s possible over there could be cases associated with the event their place of residence would be investigating.” Health officials from other host cities did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Dr William Haseltine, a former professor at Harvard Medical School known for his work on HIV and chair of the global health think tank ACCESS Health International, believes it is only a matter of time before we saw these confirmed events as super-diffusers.
“They are reckless,” Haseltine said, adding that Feucht “put people in danger”.
“Unfortunately, even our leaders are not following public health recommendations, so it is not impossible to see how this permit was granted,” he said. “But let’s be clear, there is no way to organize an event like this without putting people at risk.”
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