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Scott Creates City, Johns Hopkins Partnership For Safely Reopening Houses Of Worship

 Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott speaks during a Monday afternoon news conference.
Charm TV
Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott speaks during a Monday afternoon news conference.

Mayor Brandon Scott announced Monday a partnership between Baltimore City and Johns Hopkins University to guide faith leaders on how to safely reopen houses of worship as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” the Democrat said at a news conference. “And while we are happy that 35% of Baltimoreans have received at least their first shot of the vaccine, we are nowhere near where we need to be.”

The partnership will involve two components: an upcoming virtual educational session for religious leaders that will break down the latest CDC guidance, preventative actions, health and hygiene practices, cleaning protocol and guidance for monitoring the wellbeing of congregants. It will also establish one-on-one guidance to ensure that faith institutions are properly compiling with local public health mandates.

Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said the partnership is particularly timely, as coronavirus variants circulate through the region. Current data shows daily case counts comparable to peaks in November and December: the city is experiencing a seven--day average of 247 new cases per day and a testing positivity rate of 5.2 percent; both are indicative of widespread community transition, according to the CDC.

Dzirasa attributed the rise in part to city residents’ desire to return to pre-pandemic lifestyles, which she described as “a new type of COVID fatigue, where people are engaging in behaviors as if they've been vaccinated, before they've actually received the vaccine.”

As of Monday, only a quarter of Baltimoreans have been fully vaccinated. Scott capped capacity at religious facilities at 50% last month.

Bishop James Nelson of Destiny Christian Church said that faith-based communities are well-equipped to educate city residents on pandemic restrictions.

“We are standing in the front lines,” he said. “We're not just places where we come to worship. We’ve been the places to help meet needs, give food, give supplies and, now, to be sites for vaccination.”

He called the sense of normalcy that in-person services provide “of the utmost importance to our society.”

Dr. Sherita Hill Golden, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said that the initiative is the latest component of broad work that faith leaders have conducted to fight COVID-19, including spreading information and supplies, as well as getting vaccines into arms.

“It is our hope that this new education initiative will provide faith leaders and members of our places of worship with guidance that can help keep our residents safe and limit the spread of COVID-19,” she said.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.