But the backdrop of that visible noncompliance must not be missed: The vast majority of churches closed as directed. A late April poll found only 3 percent of Americans said their house of worship was still meeting in its building. That is an excellent rate of compliance, particularly given the spiritual and practical difficulty of the ask. Cell phone data shows churchgoers even stayed home on Easter, a day attendance usually spikes. And though white evangelicals have below-average personal concern about the pandemic, their participation in public health measures tracks pretty closely with that of the general public.

Too many stories depicting religious assembly or religiosity itself as especially dangerous neglect to mention this context. They also neglect to mention the reality that articles like the Times report are possible because churches can perform contact tracing that the United States is not doing on a larger scale (as compared to countries like South Korea). A church outbreak is far easier to track than one in a store, restaurant, or political rally or protest. It’s not unfair for journalists to use churches for granular examination of contagion hotspots, but it is unfair to omit this explanation of why churches are so well suited to this type of report.