COVID comes to church

Some Avoyelles churches allegedly disregarding safety protocols

There have been reports that at least two rural Avoyelles Parish churches have been identified as possible hotspots of COVID infection.

An unofficial but reliable source said the State Fire Marshall is aware of the situation and is taking steps to educate and remind all churches that COVID rules also apply to them.

The vast majority of churches in Avoyelles have complied with orders that limited the size of gatherings, required masks be worn and that congregant families sit at least six feet away from non-family members.
However, there are allegations that some churches are not following those guidelines, which has resulted in additional cases and COVID-related deaths.

The Office of State Fire Marshal (SFM), which has been given the responsibility of enforcing the governor's COVID-19 "Open Safely" restrictions, said efforts are being made to let churches know the procedures
and restrictions in place "during our battle with COVID-19."

Avoyelles Sheriff David Dauzat has said his office is responsible for enforcing laws adopted by the Legislature. Mandates enacted by executive order of the governor fall
under the jurisdiction state agencies, such as the Fire Marshal.

Since March there has been a conflict between churches and government over rules to control the spread of the coronavirus.

In the beginning, there was an argument about "separation of church and state" and the 1st Amendment right against government making laws concerning religion. After the dust cleared, the legal decision was that the government has the right and responsibility to impose restrictions -- even on churches -- to protect the general welfare of society.

It has been suggested that financial stress could be a reason why some churches have felt the need to resume operations at pre-COVID levels. Salaries, mortgages, utilities and other routine costs do
not stop because members cannot attend services.

While many members have continued to support their church with tithes and offerings, churches have reported a drop in members' contributions.

One complaint the newspaper has heard concerns a large funeral gathering which disregarded COVID protocols.

The funeral director reportedly commented to the pastor that there were too many people in the funeral home. The pastor indicated he wasn't going to do anything about it.

"Then I guess I'll be doing your funeral
soon," the director said.

The primary weapons against COVID are social distancing, face coverings and sanitation. CDC guides also state "Individuals 65 years or older, people of all ages with poor control of medical issues like high blood
pressure, heart disease, obesity, or a weakened immune system are at a higher risk for getting very sick or dying from COVID-19 and should strictly adhere to all CDC guidelines, and are encouraged to stay at
home as much as possible," the guide continues.

"I haven’t had anything major come across my desk that was specifically related to a church in Avoyelles Parish," OPH Region 6 Surveillance Epidemiologist Leslie Saucier Arceneaux said. "That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not happening."

She said the information she receives is "self-reported, so people can lie or tell half-truths or tell us nothing at all and we can’t really do anything about that."

Arceneaux said a lot of people don’t trust the government, so when a "contact tracer" calls to try to determine where the virus may have been contracted or who the patient may have come in contact with,
"the most common answer is 'I didn’t go anywhere or see anyone.'”

She said everyone is "feeling 'COVID fatigue,' especially myself. We want to be able to go to Walmart without realizing you forgot your mask at home and have to drive back, or visit your relatives in the nursing home multiple times a week without thinking twice about it.

"Unfortunately, that’s not our reality right now," she continued. "There are so many unknowns about this virus, which gives some people a reason to refuse or ignore guidance. For me, it only promotes my willingness to comply."

Arceneaux said she has adopted the attitude of "It’s not about me. It’s about the person next to me and the family they go home to. It’s about protecting the people in our community who can’t protect themselves."

If the maiden name sounds familiar, it should.

"I have a profound love for Avoyelles Parish and the people in it," she said. "It’s been a pleasure to give back to the parish that raised me."

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