Hundreds of people without masks gathered inside a church in Washington state this week to hear from a controversial pastor who has spoken out against face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.
Crowds defied state mandates at The House Ministry Center, where pastor Greg Locke from Tennessee was visiting Wednesday, media outlets reported.
Washington requires people to wear face coverings in public or shared spaces.
Snohomish County is in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee's Safe Start reopening plan, which means "indoor spiritual or religious services" should not exceed 200 people or 25% capacity, according to the state's website. It's unclear exactly how many people attended the service Wednesday.
The day before the church visit, Locke posted a video to his 2 million Facebook followers urging churches and pastors to "stop being cowards" and reopen for in-person services.
"There is so much going on in our nation right now, it's hard to keep up with. But one of the things that I am just uber frustrated and discouraged about is the reaction that churches are having to the government mandated shutdowns," Locke said in the video. "The power is in the gathering of God's people together and now we're not gathering."
Snohomish County health officials tried unsuccessfully to contact the church, KING reported.
Locke has said he does not believe masks help prevent the spread of coronavirus, despite many health experts' advice.
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday that "clear scientific evidence" shows face masks are "our best defense" against COVID-19, McClatchy reported.
"These (masks) have become idols," Locke said. "They don't do anything whatsoever, they're the dumbest thing that's ever been created by humanity. They are scientifically proven to do jack spratt."
Coronavirus rules have been controversial in Snohomish County, where the sheriff referred to the state's stay-home order as "unconstitutional" and refused to enforce it, KIRO reported.
House Ministry pastor D.J. Rabe said he believes Washington's death rate is not high enough for the state to restrict services, according to KING.
"This is not a health emergency in the state of Washington," Rabe said, the TV station reported. "Look at the numbers. There are 7.5 million people in Washington and we've had 2,100 deaths."
A KING reporter asked Locke how he would feel if someone were to get sick.
"That wouldn't be on me," Locke said. "I can't control COVID one way or the other."
He later added: "If somebody gets sick, somebody gets sick."