ST. LOUIS – Black pastors here are telling area churches to keep their doors closed for a while longer despite Gov. Mike Parson’s plan to reopen Missouri during the coronavirus pandemic.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition and other religious leaders issued a statement Tuesday in which they counseled patience.
Coalition President Bishop Elijah Hankerson said: “As clergy, our first obligation is to our members, and we have a greater obligation to the community as a whole. We can’t put people in harms 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 medical professions, not the politicians, to let us know when it is safe to return to normal.”The Rev. Darryl Gray, also a coalition member, said that “opening churches outside of I-70 may work for some churches in the state, but there is no evidence that the coronavirus pandemic has slowed down in black communities. Why should people who are already suffering disproportionately in so many other ways, subject themselves to sickness and possible death?”
The plan by Parson, a Republican, allows all businesses and organizations, including religious services, to restart as of Monday.
Local governments may impose stricter limits, and the largest jurisdictions have done so. Stay-at-home orders in St. Louis city and county, Kansas City and Jackson County will continue until at least mid-May.
About 30 percent of all cases in Missouri — and 40 percent of deaths — involve black residents, even though just 12 percent of the state’s population is black. The impact 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.
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 cited on Tuesday 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 Monday at a 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 were down across the state except in the St. Louis area, and he said indications were 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.