Local religious leaders and churches play a vital role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic
RICHMOND, Virginia (WRIC) – Scientists, doctors and nurses have worked tirelessly to help everyone get through the pandemic, but there is a community that has grown stronger in the fight against COVID-19 that many don’t may not realize and it is the religious leaders.
When the pandemic began, churches across the country made headlines for organizing in-person services in violation of CDC guidelines. But that doesn’t paint a picture of the vitality of religious leaders and their places of worship during the pandemic, especially in central Virginia.
COVID-19 disrupted in-person worship in 2020, forcing many religious leaders to get creative by going virtual, hosting drive-in and drive-in services. As church doors closed temporarily, many places of worship became community health centers.
Local religious leaders, like Senior Pastor Ralph Hodge, opened the Second Baptist South Richmond parking lot on Broad Rock Boulevard in May 2020 for COVID-19 testing. Pastor Hodge said they opened the doors to vaccinations in February 2021.
âWe have been instrumental in helping the community protect the community,â Hodge said.
8News asked the longtime pastor how many people have shown up at church for COVID resources since the pandemic began, he laughed and said in thousands.
âI think we really helped,â Hodge said. âAll the churches that were involved from the start, we really got those numbers where they needed to be. We really helped.
The Islamic Center and the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart are also involved in the efforts to help and have partnered with the health districts of Richmond and Henrico. A spokesperson for the districts said the Sacred Heart has increased vaccinations in the Latin American community and the Islamic Center has done the same for the Muslim community.
Dr Danny Avula, state coordinator for vaccines, said religious leaders have played a central role in the fight against the virus and have contributed greatly to the reluctance to vaccinate.
âWe have regular relationships with imams, rabbis and church pastors throughout the region,â said Avula. âThe real value that churches and other faith communities bring is that they enjoy the trust of their congregation and community. “
Trusted messengers strive to debunk COVID myths, but not without learning the facts for themselves.
Avula has credited her fellow medical professionals, such as Dr. Robert Winn. Winn, director of VCU Massey Cancer Center, welcomes “Facts and Faith Friday” bring in state and federal health experts to educate African American pastors.
âNow there are over 100 pastors going back to their congregation and passing the facts on,â Avula said. “I think this has made a huge difference in the rise in immunization, especially in the older African American community.”
8News interviewed Winn last year while working to educate the public about health disparities in the black community.
âThere would be a lot more deaths if it weren’t for the churches that mobilized,â said Pastor Hodge.
Avula applauds the progress Central Virginia has made, but says there is still work to be done to bridge the vaccination gap with the younger generation.
For COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, local residents can attend the Second Baptist Church in South Richmond on Thursdays.