Dear State Officials, Governors, Mayors, Senators, Public Advocates, and Pastors across the United States of America,
I am fed up with staying home, wondering when I will get to see my friends again. I am growing ill each moment I ponder about my next trip outdoors with my mother to salvage food and supplies for our household, worrying about maintaining 6ft away from members of the same community I reside in. Finally, I am yearning for the day when I can worship freely with the community of people I’ve known all my life within my church home. However, I realize the duty of me as a citizen of my state of New York, and my duty as a citizen of the United States of America. My duty is to abide by the policies of our public health experts, and do so without hesitation.
I am a 16 year old, African-American, church-going, Baptist Christian who understands his duty to the community he lives in, as well as the overall well-being of the citizens of the United States. However, the actions a handful of our governors have taken to reopen society as if it is as good as new cannot be left without questioning, nor can the undying quarrelsome nature that supersedes almost every aspect of society. The direction we are going in at the moment is only a path of blind sight leading with the mindset of ignorant greed. Although the gradual reopening of small businesses and churches in the United States are needed to reopen society, the effects of such an action could be detrimental to the health and well being of citizens across the US.
States are reopening under the premise that it will end up helping the economy recover from it being decimated from COVID-19. States such as Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida have reopened their places of worship, restaurant dine-in services, as well as personal-care businesses. At first glance, this may seem like a step in the right direction because hitherto this point we have been in lockdown for about four months. People might need a breath of fresh air from the confinement of their homes. Not to mention the desire to reopen their businesses to ease the economic strain from lack of revenue.
Let’s take a moment to look at the numbers: Data from The Washington Post As we can see, proceeding the times in which these three states launched their reopening tactics, further down the months of April through June, they began to display huge spikes in cases. Regardless of the attempts of governors to ease restrictions by way of allowing entertainment facilities, personal-care businesses, and recreational activities to commence with limitations on gatherings, the numbers of coronavirus cases seem to be only on the rise.
The real problem here is that governors in these states are ignoring the united views of their citizens to abide by public-health experts’ warnings to uphold social distancing and mask protocols, along with the undeniable fact that our country is just not ready to reopen society. This includes churches choosing to reopen to their members. Moreover, I am not alone in these beliefs, as a staff writer for The Atlantic wrote in an editorial, “Politicians seldom take major, risky steps without knowing that public opinion is behind them, and that makes the decisions by governors to reopen all the stranger. As I have written, public opinion is astonishingly united behind social-distancing measures.” This statement is a completely valid argument, because these actions are not only done by governors, but also by pastors. For example, Pastor Jim Franklin of Cornerstone Church in Fresno, California said that he wanted to reopen the doors of his church for in-person worship on May 31st. In his own words, “We want to keep people healthy — mind, body and spirit,” Mr. Franklin said. “If people can be safe at a big-box store, if hundreds of people can gather there to pick up home improvement items, I think the church can also do it safely (New York Times).” The issue is that Cornerstone Church usually sees up to 3,000 members join their services each week. They tend to have prayer services on Sundays at 8 am, and then two other services after at 9 am and 11 am. If they were to split these services evenly, then it would be about 1000 members per service in a perfect case scenario. Regardless of the church taking social distancing protocols into account, their members will be singing, dancing, and shouting within these services because that is the kind of worship experience provided within this church. This is an immediate red flag as one of the leading ways of COVID-19 transmission is a result of respiratory droplets being released through speech. Additionally, you also have to keep in mind the elderly that attend these church services. To this point in time, research suggests that due to underlying conditions they are more prone to passing away.
I understand why some people have the opinion that we should reopen states and churches because we must revitalize the economy and to assist with the mental health/worship of our members. However, we should create a plan of action that prioritizes the complete safety of our communities as well as the mental health of them. Students across the country are dealing with a mental health crisis like never before, mainly because they do not have access to the help they might have had before school lockdowns. In order to combat this, guidance counselors are posting wellness videos on Facebook and also holding virtual therapy sessions with students. Although plenty of students do not have access to technology, some counselors are even figuring out how to visit students during these tough times. An example of this is Emily Fox, a social emotional specialist at a primary school in Chillicothe, Ohio regularly delivered lunch to those from underprivileged families, and she devoted an afternoon to driving to a dozen houses, where she talked to students from a safe distance outside (New York Times ). Furthermore, revitalizing the economy will be a slow process, and creating a sudden influx of business will only cause operational inefficiencies, as well as create instability to what was already a very volatile stock market. As much as we do not like to say it, business reopenings must be a slow and steady process in order to be more successful in the grand scheme of things.
In order to address the many issues already brought up, states and churches must come up with a plan of action. In order to assist with the reopening of small businesses in each state, they should frame their opening sequence in specific phases in conjunction with the warnings of public health officials. Additionally, in order to assist with the reopening of churches we should follow the same structured phase system that the state would set up, however, frame it in a way that prioritizes how many members are allowed inside at a time. Churches must structure their services in a way where they figure out how many clergy/associate ministers will be allowed inside one service, and crowd control. In order to do this, churches must flush out a way to gradually allow more and more members into in-person services while maintaining their livestream outlets, so that members at home will still be able to have a similar worship experience. Yes this means sacrificing handshakes, hugs, and kisses. Yes, this means wearing masks inside the church building. Yes, this means that church-goers will not be able to return to in-person worship as quick as you may have thought. However, it does present an opportunity for a healthier, safer, and more powerful future for our churches.
I urge pastors to communicate with their state congress members and congregations, to maintain an equilibrium between the needs of your members and the right plan of action, aligning with the state’s reopening protocols to reopen your churches in the distant future. The reason why this plan of action is beneficial to your small businesses, and to your churches, is because our situation is comparable to the 1918 Spanish Influenza outbreak. Like now, states did not pay attention to the repercussions of reopening too quickly, and ended up in an even worse situation than before. “Cleveland during the 1918 flu had the largest death rate in the state, at 474 per 100,000” (Metro News). Furthermore, within the Spanish Influenza epidemic, a powerful second wave of the virus occurred because society wasn’t cleared for herd immunity yet. As one can see, regardless of our mistakes of the past, governors and pastors continue to reopen states and churches too quickly, all because they want to go back to normal as quickly as possible.
Do the right thing, and take your time reopening, because we do not want to relive our past mistakes. Do the right thing, and listen to the members of the community who are the backbone of businesses and regular societal outputs. Do the right thing and prioritize the health of your state’s citizens governors. Do the right thing, and prioritize the health of your congregations’ church pastors. At the end of the day we all are one people, one nation, one congregation. So will you continue this endless cycle of prioritizing boosting the economy as quickly as possible? Or will you prioritize the well-being of the people you serve and protect?