- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2020

CHICAGO (AP) - A small northern Illinois church defied crowd restrictions in the state’s latest stay-at-home order, holding a Sunday service with dozens of people.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s extension of the order, which took effect Friday and lifts May 30, allows for worship limited to groups of 10, along with other social distancing measures.

Roughly 100 people attended The Beloved Church in Lena, according to WREX-TV, which was denied entrance but interviewed attendees and neighbors who counted congregants. The community of roughly 2,800 people is 130 miles (209.21 kilometers) northwest of Chicago.

Officials with the evangelical church sued in federal court arguing Pritzker’s order violates the First Amendment right to free religious practice. However, U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee on Sunday rejected the church’s request for a temporary restraining order because such large gatherings could “magnify the risk of contagion even when participants practice preventative measures.”

Worshippers stood with their families, but stayed six feet away from others and were provided hand sanitizer and masks, according to Thomas Ciesielka, a spokesman for the Thomas More Society, which represents the church in court.

Pritzker said Sunday that the order is temporary and faith leaders should make keeping parishioners safe a top priority.

“We’re not stopping you from praying. We’re not stopping you from connecting with your parishioners,” he said. “What we are trying to stop is the spread of this invisible killer.”

Health officials announced 2,994 new cases of COVID-19 Sunday, including 63 deaths. Overall, there have been 61,499 cases and 2,618 deaths. Pritzker said a record 19,417 coronavirus tests were conducted recorded over the past 24 hours.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

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