new haven

Church Leaders Push to Keep Services at a Distance

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As retailers and restaurants get ready for Wednesday, the Greater New Haven Clergy Association is urging churches to keep their doors closed.

“It is not the proper time for us to be gathering not knowing who is carrying the virus,” said Rev. Dr. Boise Kimber.

On a call Monday, he urged city and church leaders to consider repurposing empty church buildings.

“Churches can, and should be, used as testing sites,” said Kimber.

Kimber said before people can come back to worship, more accessible testing sites are needed in areas like Newhallville and West Rock.

“…where car ownership is the lowest, families have the farthest to travel for testing,” said Kimber.

Those are areas Mayor Justin Elicker said they’re looking into. There are now five sites in New Haven: CVS at the former Gateway Community College, Yale New Haven Health on Longwarf, Fair Haven Health, a walkup site at Chapel and Day Streets, and Cornell Scott Hill Health Center on Dixwell Avenue.

Elicker said anyone in New Haven with or without symptoms can get tested. It is at no cost and no doctor’s note is needed. If so, the New Haven Health Department can assist with a letter and should be contacted if there’s a request for payment.

"We’ll start to see a lot more asymptomatic testing, so that many residents are getting tested. That’s really important to us beating the virus," said Elicker.

With those sites up and running, Elicker said his team continues to monitor hot spots in neighborhoods across the city, most often in communities of color.

“City Hall is in particular focused on neighborhoods that are of need, that are hotspots for COVID-19. And we will continue to add new sites that are focused on those hotspots,” said Elicker. “We’re thinking of a number of different options for testing, one is sites that are stationary for a long time and another is mobile sites so that we can move around and make sure we’re flexible.”

He said new testing sites will be announced this week.

At Varick Memorial AME Zion church Church, the services continue online.

“We realize it does not take a building to worship and praise God,” said Varick’s Pastor Kelcy G. L. Steele. "There’s still a danger to people’s health by assembling."

He said they won’t go back inside their building for quite some time. But he’s got an inside look at reopening as a member of the governor’s Faith-Based Advisory Council.

“It’s dangerous to open up the churches if you don’t give the churches proper guidelines that’s been vetted by medical professionals,” said Steele. “So we’re really looking at that across our faith communities, how’s this going to look when we do go back into the building.”

He said that guidance will include cleaning between services, temperature checks and hand sanitizing stations for the reopening when the time is right.

“We’re not going to jeopardize people’s health just to bring them back and sit in pews.”

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