The undersigned are pastors in Accomack and Northampton counties who are deeply concerned with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our communities and people. As leaders of our communities of faith, we have continued to provide comfort and hope to our congregations even as the coronavirus has resulted in sickness and death throughout our towns and villages. This dread disease is no respecter of persons, cares not whether one is a member of a church, does not discriminate whether persons are rich or poor, persons of color or European ancestry, young or old. In other words, we are in this battle against the coronavirus together!
We are alarmed that the rapid spread of COVID-19 has been identified nationally in the congregate settings of poultry and meat processing plants as ground zero in the high numbers of workers testing positive for the virus. The communities in which these plants are located have become hot spots of the deadly disease. This trend has been seen in the two major poultry processing plants on the Eastern Shore, Tyson and Perdue. The vast majority of victims have been workers in these plants. This is a health crisis for our Eastern Shore communities.
We appeal to management of the plants to ensure that their workers are safe by making an effort to educate workers in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole languages; providing protective equipment they need; granting paid leave if they are unable to work; reconfiguring production spaces to ensure safe social distances; and treating your workers as if they were members of your own family. These workers are essential, not expendable!
To workers, we implore you to learn about how to prevent and take every precaution from spreading this virus in order to protect you and your families as well as the communities in which you live and shop. We need to protect our health care workers and ensure our hospitals are not overwhelmed with preventable cases of the coronavirus.
Our concern and prayers are for all God’s people in our churches and in our communities. In addition to the spread of COVID-19 being a public health crisis, it is a moral one as well. All of our essential workers — grocery clerks, utility workers, health care and nursing home workers, fast-food restaurant employees — are worthy of having safe places to work, to have testing to identify whether workers test positive and need to have safe locations to be quarantined. Employers have a moral responsibility to their employees as well as the commercial obligation to provide food and products for the people of our communities. We are all in this together, we are all God’s children, and we all have the divine imperative to love our neighbors — all of our neighbors — as ourselves.
God’s peace and blessings be with you and yours as we endure these tragic times. Maintain hope and faith that together we will emerge even stronger when this pandemic passes.
The Very Rev. Frederick W Willis, Jr., Transitional Rector, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church Onancock
The Rev. Robert Coniglio, Rector, Emmanuel Jenkins Bridge Episcopal Church, Oak Hall
Pastor Rev. Willie Justis, Holy Trinity Baptist Church, Painter
The Rev. Alex Joyner, District Superintendent, Eastern Shore District of the United Methodist Church
The Rev. Phillip Bjornberg, Rector, St. James’ Episcopal Church Accomac, St. George’s Episcopal Church Pungoteague
The Rev. Alan Champ Mead, Professional Transition Specialist (IMN), IMN Communications
The Rev. Claire Hunkins, Episcopal Priest, retired former Rector of Emmanuel Jenkins Bridge
The Rev. Linda Rogers, Deacon, Hungars Episcopal Church, Bridgetown