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Abbott: Churches should conduct services remotely, but if they must meet in person, they should follow social-distancing guidelines

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Some states leaders, including Texas State Rep. Chris Turner, chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, have expressed concern about Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to include religious worship as an essential service, leaving open the possibility of large gatherings at churches.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Abbott encouraged churches to conduct their services remotely but said that if they must meet in person, they should follow the federal social-distancing guidelines.

"I’m unaware of a church that would want its constituents, its parishioners, to be exposed to COVID-19, and I think there’s enough public information right now for them to be aware of the practices that are needed to make sure that their members don’t contract COVID-19," Abbott said in the interview.

There has been controversy, particularly in the Houston area, over church closures in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Pastors are in court challenging a stay-at-home order that Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a week ago that restricts churches to online-only services.

To that end, Abbott's latest executive order supersedes "any conflicting order issued by local officials." At the news conference, Abbott said local officials can still issue more stringent restrictions than the statewide standard as long as they do not conflict with that standard.

There are at least 3,266 coronavirus cases in Texas, including 41 deaths, according to the most recent figures from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The cases are spread across 122 of the state's 254 counties.

There have been 42,992 tests done in Texas, according to the latest numbers.

"We’ve come too far to falter now,” Abbott said at the news conference, where he was joined by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. “We have made tremendous strides, but we have not yet reached our destination. … Together, we will persevere through this for another month.”