A group of religious leaders in Charlottesville issued a statement Friday expressing “grave reservations” about Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan to reopen the state.
Members of the Charlottesville Clergy Collective said they appreciate the guidelines implemented for health and safety so far, but have received little help on how to safely reopen houses of worship, and fear a premature opening will put their congregations at even more risk.
“Many congregations do not have the resources to compete with richer congregations and businesses in purchasing masks, disinfectants, sanitation stations and thermometers needed to meet Phase 1 guidelines,” they wrote in a letter to the governor on Friday. “Many faith leaders will also experience great pressure to reopen for worship, hold funeral services, and other physical gatherings despite having less than one week to meet Phase I guidelines.”
Religious gatherings such as church services, funerals and baptisms have contributed to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, according to previous reporting, and Charlottesville-area health officials have linked some infections to church services and funerals. In their letter, the clergy write that they fear reopening will continue that trend.
“We want to be part of the solution, even if it means sacrificing our preference for in-person gatherings a little longer for the sake of others,” they wrote.
But their stated concerns go beyond in-person services. The leaders wrote that they fear sending people back to work too early will continue racial inequities in the country.
“We feel it is our moral duty to express our deep concern about the negative impact this reopening will have on the most vulnerable populations of our society,” they write. “A premature reopening will only worsen the racial inequity that currently exists, and increase the morbidity rates within black and brown communities in Virginia. Without more testing, robust contact tracing, and PPE’s, they — as well as low-wage essential workers, poultry and meat processors, imprisoned people, immunocompromised individuals, and health care professionals, among others — will bear the brunt of the risks, the deaths, and the cost of this reopening.”
The leaders have asked for a meeting with Northam.
“We will continue to keep you and all the state’s leadership in our prayers,” they wrote. “We too, are eager for the state to fully reopen and for Virginians to return to work. However, we want to work for a reopening that shares its benefits to ALL Virginians in an equitable and just manner.”