Mid-South churches taking safety precautions as COVID-19 cases surge

Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 10:41 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - It was May of last year when Tennessee Governor Bill Lee issued guidance for reopening churches.

Since then, it’s been a multitude of difficult decisions about how and when to come back to in-person worship service and once again, they’re having to make more decisions as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

“Of course when you hear the numbers again, it’s like here we go again,” said Pastor Marvin Sims of St. Mark Baptist Church in South Memphis.

Mims says his church, like so many other churches, have been on quite the roller coaster ride since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. St. Mark returned to in-person worship in May of last year.

“It was important not only to be together, but to worship and praise God, but also have that sense that we’re still the church,” said Mims.

Mims says they had to shut down again in December when cases started to surge again. They moved services outside to keep parishioners apart.

Once the vaccine became available, the church hosted two separate vaccination events at their church for the entire south Memphis community.

Now, over 70 percent of the congregation is fully vaccinated, so once again they reopened their doors in May.

“So, up until this recent surge a few weeks ago, we eliminated the maskwearing because we felt like we had enough people vaccinated,” said Mims.

Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance on mask wearing.

They now recommend fully vaccinated people in areas of substantial transmission to return to facial coverings while indoors.

According to the CDC map, most of the state of Tennessee has either high or substantial transmission. There is no overall mandated guidance for houses of worship in the state, so the practices vary.

A spokesperson with Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova says masking is currently optional. Temple Israel remained completely virtual for 67 weeks.

Rabbi Micah Greenstein says they had their first in-person service last month and masking is mandatory.

“We know that the masks will help, so it’s a very simple recommendation. Go be with people, but do it in a setting where folks are masked,” said Dr. Scott Strome, executive dean at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine.

Strome says at this point, there’s no point to cancel in-person service during this surge, but he does say it’s a good time for houses of worship to require masks and encourage vaccination.

“The vaccines work. It’s really a miracle of modern medicine. They work,” said Strome.

As for Mims, he says they’re waiting for guidance from the local health department, but worship will continue as normal for now.

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