Vice President Mike Pence told "Nightline" co-anchor Byron Pitts on Wednesday that Americans should not attend church services of more than 10 people during the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Police on Monday arrested a Florida megachurch pastor for allegedly violating a county social distancing order by holding a packed church service, and the day before, according to the Associated Press, around 500 people attended a church service in Louisiana, despite a statewide ban on large gatherings.
Pence said he, his wife Karen and President Donald Trump have "been enjoying worship services online."
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"We're so grateful to churches and synagogues and places of worship around America that have heeded the president's coronavirus guidelines for America," he said, referring to federal recommendations that encourage people to keep a distance from one another and not hold large gatherings.
"We really believe this is a time when people should avoid gatherings of more than 10 people," Pence said. "And, and so, we continue to urge churches around America to heed to that."
Trump recently projected -- without any evidence -- that the outbreak would dissipate enough by Easter, on April 12, to allow people to pack church pews. He sharply reversed from that rosy assessment on Sunday, when he said those recommendations should say in place at least through the end of April.
Even if Americans follow the guidelines and local orders, the White House said Monday that it expected 100,000 to 240,000 people to die from COVID-19 in the United States over the coming months. Trump struck a somber tone after months of downplaying the threat.
In a nod to another holiday, though, Pence said that the White House's modeling gives hope that the U.S. will have turned a corner by Memorial Day, which in 2020 falls on May 25.
"We believe we're in a much better place by June the 1st," Pence said. "If every American will put these guidelines into practice, if we all continue to do our part, we really do believe that by Memorial Day weekend or by early summer ... we can be through the hardest part of this."
He added, "We can save lives, and we can begin to put America back to work."
Asked why the Trump administration does not mandate social distancing, Pence signaled he preferred to make recommendations and leave enforcement up to others.
"We've also been working very closely with governors around the country to make sure that they have the information and the resources to make the best decision for their communities," he said.
The vice president spoke from a Walmart distribution center in Virginia, where he thanked workers for being on the “frontlines” of the nation’s effort to ensure the reliability of critical supply chains amid the pandemic.
What to know about coronavirus:
- How it started and how to protect yourself: coronavirus explained
- What to do if you have symptoms: coronavirus symptoms
- Tracking the spread in the US and Worldwide: coronavirus map
This report was featured in the Thursday, April 2, 2020 episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.
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