JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Members of the Historic Mt. Zion AME church, located in the heart of downtown Jacksonville, have been holding Sunday worship under the awning of the church parking lot since May.
And moving to the parking lot was a big step towards normal for church members who have been attending service via Zoom and YouTube for more than a year.
“I don’t think anybody thought it would be as long as it was, including myself,” said church trustee Nathaniel Weston. “I thought we’d be gone for a couple of weeks, maybe a month.”
After months of adjusting, and learning new technology, the congregation is now moving back into the sanctuary on Sunday. The church has been taped off to allow for social distancing, hand sanitizer dispensers have been placed strategically throughout the vestibule and Weston says every member will have their temperature tested at the door.
Perhaps, the most important factor for returning to in-person worship services was vaccines and the congregation’s willingness to get a shot. The pastor of historical Mt. Zion says most of its members have been vaccinated and medical clinicians have been stressing the importance of receiving the vaccine to congregants.
“When we saw our Bishop showing that it was safe, he got it and his wife got it, more people were comfortable with it, but most of the people I talked to were willing to get it and majority have,” said Weston.
Although most members of the mostly black congregation at Mt. Zion have been vaccinated, data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows vaccinations among people of color, particularly Black Americans, have lagged behind the overall rate for the country.
While over 51% of all Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, fewer than 25% of Black Americans have received at least one shot. CDC data shows 32% of white people in the U.S. have received at least one dose, more than 33% of people who are Asian have received at least one dose and 26% of people who are Hispanic or Latino have received a vaccine. The CDC cites “long-standing inequities,” like poverty and healthcare access, as reasons why some racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
“There are people – I don’t know any from this congregation – but they will not get the vaccine for whatever reason,” said Weston. “We feel that’s something we have stressed on this opening. We are recommending everyone still wear their masks.”
The Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Florida Department of Health reported more than 82,000 people were vaccinated through places of worship and other locations in underserved communities. The division also operated state-supported vaccination sites and mobile one-day vaccination events.
State officials say all state-supported vaccination sites will transition to the local level on Friday, June 25. The state’s fixed vaccination sites, like Regency Square Mall and Edward Waters College, will end operations on June 18. State pop-up vaccination sites across the state will also stop on June 25. People who received their first doses at these sites before the sites close will be redirected to the county health department or pharmacies for their second dose.
On the federal level, President Joe Biden has announced a national month of action to meet his July 4 goal to have more than 70% of Americans get at least one dose of a COVID-19 shot. According to the White House, four of the nation’s top childcare providers will offer free childcare to all parents getting vaccinated or recovering from vaccination from now until July 4th.
The White House also announced extended hours at pharmacies in the United States during June.