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Gov. Cuomo’s decision to reopen casinos is confusing for religious congregations

Zack Seward | Flickr

In the months following the coronavirus outbreak and the shutdown of thousands of non-essential businesses and enterprises that followed it, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo implemented a four-phase plan to bring New York out of the shutdown.

As populated businesses such as restaurants, gyms and casinos have been given permission to reopen given their accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, religious houses of worship have remained closed.

This situation leaves some wondering whether a group of casino goers, who are now able to return to casinos, are more essential than a group of individuals who are still not allowed to pray in their houses of worship.

According to Cuomo, temples, churches and mosques are considered to be “super spreaders” of the virus, causing controversy amid many religious communities as they see other potentially harmful sites open and back in business.

When it comes to determining the characteristics of a super-spreader location, many times they are shaped by poorly ventilated, indoor areas that hold many people from different households in close proximity, according to Business Insider.

With that, churches, mosques and synagogues fall under those margins.

A recent study found that talking and singing loudly can produce a sufficient number of droplets to transmit the virus beyond a mask’s barrier. While this is unfortunate and serves to explain why places of worship remain closed, this does not explain why gyms remain open.

Specifically, many religious observers argue that the risk factor is especially prominent in gyms as ventilation is central and individuals are releasing large amounts of water vapor in the form of sweat throughout their rigorous workouts while sharing stations and working out in a common area.

According to Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, his 550-seat congregation has been limited to a 10 person maximum.

In his opinion, churches would “rather close down than hold Sunday services with one priest and a congregation of nine” as it would serve to otherwise alienate many members of the community who are not able to attend the now limited service.

Most recently, New York City’s Orthodox Jewish community has been affected as Cuomo shut down many synagogues in neighborhoods, such as predominately Jewish Borough Park, with high infection rates.

The Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox advocacy group, has filed a federal lawsuit arguing the recent regulations as being a violation of their religious freedoms.

On Cuomo’s website, it states that the executive order applies only to “nonessential gatherings of any size.” However, he fails to specify what criteria is required to deem a gathering essential or not.

With that, the root of the issue at hand is the lack of transparency and explanation between Cuomo and New Yorkers in regard to defining something as essential.

For some, exercise pales in comparison to prayer. For others, it is reversed and for the rest, neither is necessary.

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