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Live stream shows Tampa Bay Church packed with people Sunday amid COVID-19 pandemic

The church said it's important for it to give people who need prayer a place to go for healing or comfort.

TAMPA, Fla. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, says people should stay six feet apart and not gather in groups of 50 or more.

But, a live-streamed service of a church in Tampa showed that that was not the case for its worshippers. 

The live stream on YouTube shows The River at Tampa Bay Church packed with people Sunday. 

In a statement made earlier this month on Facebook and on its website, the church explains why it is keeping its doors open when so many other places across the state and nation are closing. 

The church said it's important for it to give people who need prayer a place to go for healing or comfort.

The church said in a statement that it is doing everything in its power to sanitize and clean surfaces and take any other recommended measures to keep its community safe. 

The River at Tampa Bay Church said people who don't feel well or would rather take precautions and stay home should do that and watch services online. 

The church gathered after Hillsborough County issued a "safer-at home" order that went into effect Friday, March 27. Under the order, businesses that are considered essential must be able to operate under the CDC's social distancing guidelines, keeping employees and customers six feet away from each other.

If they can't do that, they must shut down.

The measure passed the county's Emergency Policy Group unanimously with an 8-0 vote. 

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office told 10News it had talked to leaders with The River at Tampa Bay Church about how its services were a direct violation of the president's guidelines for America, recommendations by the CDC and orders from Governor Ron Desantis and the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group. 

The sheriff's office said it told church leaders about the danger they are putting themselves and their congregation in by not maintaining appropriate social distancing, at a time when COVID-19 cases are unfortunately still on the rise in Hillsborough County. 

Attorneys for the church are in direct contact with attorneys for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. 

The sheriff's office said it was working to determine how compliance can be achieved to keep the public safe under these extraordinary conditions, and we hope to resolve this matter quickly. 

Here is the statement The River at Tampa Bay Church posted to its website and Facebook page March 18, 2020, about staying open:

"In a time of national crisis, we expect certain institutions to be open and certain people to be on duty. We expect hospitals to have their doors open 24/7 to receive and treat patients. We expect our police and firefighters to be ready and available to rescue and to help and to keep the peace. The Church is another one of those essential services. It is a place where people turn for help and for comfort in a climate of fear and uncertainty.

Therefore, we feel that it would be wrong for us to close our doors on them, at this time, or any time. In a time of crisis, people are fearful and in need of comfort and community, more than ever before. Even people who do not attend church regularly, or perhaps never go to church, need to know that there is somewhere for them to go when they need help.

The River at Tampa Bay is doing, and will do, everything in our power to support the efforts of our wider community by cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and take any other recommended measures to protect our people and keep them healthy and safe. If anyone is either not feeling well or would prefer to take the precaution of remaining at home for their own health, we encourage them to do that and to continue to watch the services online.

We feel that it is very important, at this time, that we keep our doors open for anyone who needs prayer or ministry and to make ourselves available to minister hope and healing and comfort to them. We are the Body of Christ and the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe God‘s Word to us, which says to trust Him and to not be fearful but to have faith in Him. We are praying—as are our fellow Christians around the world—and we know that God answers prayers.

People everywhere are looking for their leadership - both natural and spiritual - to be calm and strong and to lead them through this. Because we will eventually come through this, as we have in the past. The last thing we need, in a time of crisis, is for people to be spreading false rumors and looking for somebody to attack, or a place to allocate blame. Right now, we need to rather all be working together to get through this.

We hope and trust that all media outlets would be able to hear from the President and his medical advisors and properly and correctly report the information and advice given by them. And to resist the temptation to report in such a way as to exacerbate people’s panic, fear, and anxiety.

A word of encouragement to you, wherever you are: “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, And He saved them out of their distresses. He sent His Word and healed them, And delivered them from their destructions.” Psalm 107:19-20."

WE ARE LIVE! Tune in to our Sunday Morning "Main Event" Service with... Pastors Rodney & Adonica Howard-Browne! Subscribe to Latest Sermons http://bit.ly/rhb-yt-subscribe This message was recorded live at The River Church in Tampa, Florida. For more information about the ministries of Pastors Rodney & Adonica Howard-Browne, visit http://www.revival.com Give Online http://bit.ly/give-river Mobile Giving: Text GiveRiver to 77977 ......

The CDC has recommended that all mass gatherings and events with 50 people or more be canceled to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Washing your hands frequently with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you can't immediately wash your hands helps prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

People can also help limit the spread by not touching their face.  

10News reached out to Revival Ministries International for comment and is waiting to hear back. 

RELATED: New CDC coronavirus guidelines: Cancel events with 50 or more people

RELATED: Why we're closing schools, avoiding events, and suspending sporting events to stop the coronavirus

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