Black pastors in St. Louis: Too soon to return to church

Missouri

O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) – Missouri leaders are preparing to reopen the state next week, but black pastors in St. Louis are urging churches, especially those in the black community, to remain closed.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s plan allows all businesses and organizations to restart as of Monday, including religious services.

Local governments may impose stricter limits, and the largest jurisdictions have done so. Stay-at-home orders in Kansas City, Jackson County, St. Louis city and St. Louis County will continue until at least mid-May.

Officials with the St. Louis Clergy Coalition said Tuesday that they’re concerned that reopening churches will worsen the pandemic in the already hard-hit black community. About 30% of all cases in Missouri – and 40% of deaths – involve black residents, even though just 12% of the state’s population is black. The percentage is even worse in the St. Louis area, which makes up more than half of all cases and two-thirds of all deaths in the state.

“We can’t put people in harm’s way by opening up our churches when the virus is spreading death throughout black communities at an alarming rate. We have to wait for the medial professions, not the politicians, to let us know when it is safe to return to normal,” the coalition’s president, Bishop Elijah Hankerson, said in a statement.

Another black leader, pastor and activist Darryl Gray, agreed.

“Why should people who are already suffering disproportionately in so many other ways subject themselves to sickness and possible death?” Gray asked.

For most people, the virus 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.

The state health department on Tuesday cited 26 new deaths, bringing the total in Missouri to at least 314. The department also reported 132 new confirmed cases Tuesday, bringing the total to at least 7,303. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected without feeling sick.

Parson said during a Monday news conference that the decision to reopen businesses and organizations was based on four “pillars” that have been reached – expanding testing capacity across the state, expanding reserves of personal protective equipment, continued monitoring of the hospital and health care system capacity, and the improved ability to predict where “hot spots” may occur.

Parson said hospitalizations are down across the state except in the St. Louis area, and he said indications are they are stabilizing there.

The remains of seven people are now at the temporary St. Louis County morgue, county officials said Tuesday. The facility opened last week as the permanent morgue reached capacity due to the spike in deaths caused by the coronavirus, which has claimed 137 lives in the county.

The Missouri Democratic Party announced that the 2020 Democratic State Convention planned for August will be held virtually rather than in-person, due to the virus.

By JIM SALTER, Associated Press

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