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Oklahoma megachurch with 13k members will hold mass ‘Friendsgiving event’ this Sunday

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday ‘strongly’ warned against Americans traveling to visit relatives and friends this Thanksgiving, amid a surge in hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases nationwide.

During a telebriefing earlier today, the agency’s COVID-19 incident manager, Dr. Henry Walke, said: ‘With Thanksgiving approaching our hearts and minds turn to visiting family and friends. Amid this critical phase, the CDC is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving period.’

Walke continued: ‘One of our concerns is people over the holiday season get together, and they may actually be bringing infection with them to that small gathering and not even know it.

‘We’re very concerned about people who are coming together sort of outside their household bubble.’

A coalition of seven Midwestern governors from both sides of the political aisle issued a similar warning Thursday, penning an op-ed in the Washington Post, urging Americans to stay home for the upcoming holiday stop the virus’ ‘devastating’ spread. 

The warnings come as former CDC chief Richard Besser, now the president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said he believes the nation’s COVID-19 death toll could reach 300,000 by the end of the year.

‘It is absolutely mind-numbing to think that we have lost that many people — each individual representing a friend, a family member, someone whose life had value,’ Besser said. 

‘I worry that if we don’t change what we’re doing, we’re going to be having a conversation before the end of the year about 300,000 people.’

The announcement was made by the agency’s COVID-19 incident manager, Dr. Henry Walke (shown on Feb 5), during a telebriefing with reporters earlier today

The United States has recorded over one million new coronavirus cases in just the last seven days. 

Since the pandemic began in March, the country has recorded a total of 11.6 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 250,000 deaths. 

During his press briefing Thursday, Walke warned that large indoor household gatherings this holiday season could make the situation even worse. 

As consequence, Walke advised that all Thanksgiving celebrations should only include current household members when possible. 

The CDC updated its guidelines before the briefing to update its definition of ‘household’ to people who have been living inside one’s home for the past 14 days, which could exclude college students and older relative. 

The agency’s guidance is not a mandate, however Walke said the CDC’s advice not to travel is ‘strongly recommended.’ 

‘We alarmed,’ Walke said, adding that the country is currently experiencing an ‘exponential increase’ in cases’. 

‘From an individual household level, what’s at stake is basically increased chance of one of your loved ones becoming sick and then hospitalized and dying,’ Walke said. ‘We certainly don’t want to see that happen. These times are tough. It’s been a long outbreak.’

With regard to those who do still decide to travel, the CDC recommends doing so ‘as safely as possible,’ which includes wearing a mask while in public, maintaining social distancing and washing hands often with soap and water. 

Erin Sauber-Schatz, lead on the Community Intervention and Critical Population Task Force at the CDC, added: ‘[We’re] further clarifying that the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with the people in your household.  

‘If people have not been actively living with you 14 days before you’re celebrating, they’re not considered a member of your household and you need to take those extra precautions.’ 

Tulsa’s Victory Church (above) has come under fire for promoting a Friendsgiving event that urges worshippers to ‘bring a neighbor’ as COVID cases surge across the state

Amid the warnings, Victory Church, in Tusla, posted to Facebook on Monday announcing its plan to hold a mass ‘Friendsgiving’ event this Sunday, encouraging their members to ‘come and share a meal with us & BRING A NEIGHBOR.’

‘We always look forward to this meal with you,’ the church wrote. ‘All of our campuses will be participating at their facility. Come ready to eat.’

Footage posted to social media by Victory Church’s pastor Paul Daugherty on Tuesday appeared to show thousands of worshippers packed in closely together inside the church, without masks on or standing at a social distance.

Carrie Blumert, a public health commissioner in Oklahoma, told Newsweek that the actions of Victory Church have made her ‘so incredibly sad and angry. Religion does not exempt you from following life saving guidelines.’

Tim Landes, who first posted Daugherty’s footage to Twitter, wrote: ‘The State puts more restrictions on bars and restaurants, but what about churches like @victorytulsa that need to do their part? No masks. No social distancing.’

Earlier this year, in March, Daugherty led an outdoor service with an estimated 1,000 cars gathered in the site’s parking lot and a band set up on the roof.

The pastor said at the time that he had permission from police and local politicians to hold the service.

In a video on Victory Church’s website titled, ‘Are You Contagious?’, Daugherty is shown pulling a mask from his face and declaring ‘Victory from the virus.’ 

Victory Church has encouraged worshippers to return for in-person services, but said it has been asked to keep its auditorium at a 40 percent capacity.

‘We will have precautions in place based on CDC guidelines and phase to help keep you safe and healthy,’ the church said in a COVID update to its congregation.

Victory Church has not yet returned a DailyMail.com request for comment as to whether attendance will be limited for its Friendsgiving event and what safety measures will be put in place.

A image of a video posted by the church’s pastor shows hundreds of worshippers crammed in closely together without masks on during a service, believed to have been held on Tuesday

A photo posted to Victory Church’s Twitter feed shows an image from a recent service

The news of the church’s Friendsgiving event comes as COVID-19 cases are surging across Oklahoma, with local health officials reporting that intensive care units in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa are approaching or at full capacity.

Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said Thursday that the city ‘has a crisis’ on its hands right now.

Data released by the Oklahoma State Department of Health on Wednesday shows that the state has had 161,425 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March, and recorded 1,570 deaths.

Victory Church’s pastor Paul Daugherty is shown above. He has routinely encouraged worshippers to return for in-person services, though said capacity has been capped at 40 percent 

The figures marked an increase of 3,017 cases – or 1.9 percent – since Tuesday, with 26 new deaths also recorded.

On Monday, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced a series of executive orders that he said would keep businesses open but still work to protect Oklahomans.

As of Thursday, bars and restaurants across the state must ensure that all tables are spaced six-feet apart and in-person service will end at 11pm.

Stitt, however, still refused to issue a mask mandate for the state, only issuing a directive that requires all state employees to wear masks while in state-owned buildings.

A similar tightening of rules has been seen across a number of other states in recent days amid a nationwide public health warning that Americans traveling to gather for the Thanksgiving holiday could exacerbate the pandemic.

Senior associate dean of Oklahoma University’s college of medicine, Dr. Steven Crawford, told Fox 25: ‘The best way to celebrate is just within your own household, just the people who you live with. Bringing anyone including other family members in from the outside increases the risk of infection.’

As of Wednesday Oklahoma has reported 161,425 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 3,017 on the day prior

The state has also recorded 1,570 deaths since the pandemic began in March

Crawford’s sentiments were shared with seven governors from the Midwest, who all penned a joint op-ed in the Washington Post on Thursday, urging Americans to stay home this Thanksgiving.

Among the authors was Gretchen Whitmer (D) of Michigan, Mike DeWine (R) of Ohio, Tony Evers (D) of Wisconsin, Tim Walz (D) of Minnesota, J.B Prizker (D) of Illinois, Eric Holcomb (R) of Indiana, and Andy Beshar (D) of Kentucky.

The coalition wrote that, ‘For eight months, the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated American families everywhere. To fight this virus, governors across the country have listened to medical experts and worked around the clock to protect our families, the brave men and women on the front lines, and our small-business owners.

‘No matter the action we take, we understand that our fight against COVID-19 will be more effective when we work together.’

The governors said they were joining forces to come together urge families across the country to ‘do their part to protect themselves and their loved ones from the spread of COVID-19.’

‘When it comes to fighting this virus, we are all on the same team,’ the governors wrote.

In the Midwest, cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations are skyrocketing.

On Wednesday, Michigan was officially labelled the fifth deadliest state in the US for COVID-19 and has now recorded the sixth most cases.

Sarah Lyon-Callo, director of the Bureau of Epidemiology and Population Health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, on Wednesday told reporters that cases and deaths across the state continue to increase at an exponential rate.

‘We have the 10th highest hospitalization rate as percent of total beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, and the sixth highest number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU’ in the nation, Lyon-Callo said in a news conference.

State data show Michigan added 47,771 new confirmed cases over the last seven days. The state has now had 303,000 cases of COVID-19 since March and 8,576 deaths.

MICHIGAN: On Wednesday the state became the fifth deadliest in the US after reported 8,576 deaths. The state also has the sixth most cases, with 303,000

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (above) was among the authors of the Washington Post’s Thursday op-ep, which urged Americans to stay home this Thanksgiving

Ohio and Kentucky are also each grappling with soaring case counts and hospitalizations.

In Ohio, state health officials reported that as of Wednesday, 319,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported and 5,827 have died from the virus.

Gov. Dewine announced a three-week retail curfew Tuesday that runs from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. to slow the spread of the coronavirus as cases stay at near-record high levels.

‘We know if we reduce number of people we come in contact every day, we reduce the chance of getting the virus, and we reduce the chance of getting the virus if you unknowingly have it,’ DeWine said.

Similarly, in Kentucky, where 148,000 cases and 1,816 deaths have been reported, Gov. Beshar closed all school classrooms and ended indoor dining at all bars and restaurants across the state until December 13.

In their op-ed, the seven governors insisted that it’s ‘more important than ever to double-down’ on mask-wearing a social distancing to ‘help more people get through the winter and protect those on the front lines of this crisis — our doctors, nurses, grocery store workers and truck drivers.’

While news of two effective vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have provided ‘hope on the horizon’, the governors said the breakthrough ‘doesn’t mean we can let our guard down and loosen the safety measures we have made in our daily lives.’

‘We must remember that when the vaccine is approved, it will take time to distribute, and we need everyone to continue doing his or her part to protect one another from covid-19,’ the governors continued.

OHIO: 319,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported and 5,827 have died from the virus since the pandemic began in March

Also co-authoring the piece was Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine (above) whose state is also battling surging case counts and hospitalizations

To do so, the governors urged Americans to forgo travelling out-of-state to see family members this year, instead suggesting to ‘get together with your family via Zoom to ensure your loved ones stay safe.’

‘If you are planning to spend Thanksgiving with people outside your household, we urge you to reconsider,’ the governors wrote.

‘Think about your last Thanksgiving and the people you were surrounded by — your parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends, or the family you have chosen for yourself.

‘Picture their faces — laughing with you, watching football with you or even arguing with you about politics. As hard as it will be to not see them this Thanksgiving, imagine how much harder it would be if their chairs are empty next year.’

The governors insisted that all Americans must be prepared to make short-term sacrifices for ‘our long-term health’.

‘It’s going to be a hard fight. But we are up for this challenge,’ the letter continues. ‘Let’s continue to listen to medical experts and do our part to protect the brave men and women on the front lines of this crisis. We will get through this together.’

Governor’s Washington Post Op-ed in Full

Source: Washington Post 

For eight months, the covid-19 pandemic has devastated American families everywhere. To fight this virus, governors across the country have listened to medical experts and worked around the clock to protect our families, the brave men and women on the front lines, and our small-business owners. No matter the action we take, we understand that our fight against covid-19 will be more effective when we work together.

That is why we, a group of bipartisan governors, are joining forces today to urge families across our region, and Americans everywhere, to do their part to protect themselves and their loved ones from the spread of covid-19. When it comes to fighting this virus, we are all on the same team.

Right now, cases and hospitalizations are skyrocketing in the Midwest and across the country. As the weather gets colder and more people head inside, it will get worse. It is more important than ever that we double down on mask-wearing and physical distancing to help more people get through the winter and protect those on the front lines of this crisis — our doctors, nurses, grocery store workers and truck drivers.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

There is hope on the horizon. Pfizer and Moderna have both announced that early analyses showed that their vaccine candidates are effective. This is great news, but it doesn’t mean we can let our guard down and loosen the safety measures we have made in our daily lives. It’s crucial that we keep our infection rate low so we can distribute the vaccine as quickly as possible when it’s ready. We must remember that when the vaccine is approved, it will take time to distribute, and we need everyone to continue doing his or her part to protect one another from covid-19.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, we urge all Americans to stay smart and follow recommendations from medical experts: Get together with your family via Zoom to ensure your loved ones stay safe. If you are planning to spend Thanksgiving with people outside your household, we urge you to reconsider. Think about your last Thanksgiving and the people you were surrounded by — your parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends, or the family you have chosen for yourself. Picture their faces — laughing with you, watching football with you or even arguing with you about politics. As hard as it will be to not see them this Thanksgiving, imagine how much harder it would be if their chairs are empty next year.

We must make short-term sacrifices for our long-term health. None of us wants the guilt of gathering and unwittingly spreading this virus to someone we love. As you consider your options for next week, we urge you to make the hard choices because they will ultimately be the right choices.

Each and every one of us have a role to play in this fight, whether you live in a city such as Chicago or Minneapolis, or smaller cities such as Celina, Ohio, or Henderson, Ky. Whether you’re a Wolverine, a Hoosier or a Badger, you have a role to play. This is going to be a tough couple of months. It’s going to be a hard fight. But we are up for this challenge. Let’s continue to listen to medical experts and do our part to protect the brave men and women on the front lines of this crisis. We will get through this together.

Authors:  Gretchen Whitmer (D) of Michigan, Mike DeWine (R) of Ohio, Tony Evers (D) of Wisconsin, Tim Walz (D) of Minnesota, J.B Prizker (D) of Illinois, Eric Holcomb (R) of Indiana, and Andy Beshar (D) of Kentucky. 

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