A pair of churches in New York have been left devastated after losing over 100 members between them from Covid-19.
Saint Peter's Church in midtown Manhattan has lost around 10% of its entire congregation to the virus, suffering some 40 fatalities. In addition, the Saint Bartholomew Catholic Church in Queens has seen at least 63 parishioners die of the disease.
St Bartholomew's leader, Father Rick Beuther, told Fox News: "The last eight, 10 weeks has been a real tsunami, a disaster for us here, between sickness, death, unemployment and just lack of services for the undocumented." Beuther noted that the virus spread like wildfire amongst his community, in part due to many of his members living together in cramped apartments.
"It brought a lot of stress," he said. "Anyone who was coughing or sneezing in an apartment, they'd be afraid that the rest of the group would ask them to leave."
Saint Peter's Rev Fabián Arias added: "It's very hard for our community. For all Latinos, when our people die, they receive a blessing. We say the last goodbye and pray together. It's very important for us."
Regional Lutheran bishop Paul Egensteiner said that the death toll was made worse due to many immigrants being "reluctant to go to the hospital, wondering will they get treated, will they get deported." Egensteiner said the profound impact on the Hispanic community cannot be overstated. When church services return to normal, he said, "congregation members are going to be shocked at who’s missing."
Rev Fabián, who has been conducting many of the funerals and hosting church services online, said that some of his congregants wish to resume in-person services despite the health risk - he has refused. "It's not what God would want," he said. "God wants to protect life."
With New York continuing to try to get the rate of infection under control, some churches in the city have decided to reopen their doors as testing centres. According to ABC-7, a group called Northwell Health is working with churches to target testing in low income and minority communities — like that of Saint Peter's and Saint Bartholomew — where there have been higher rates of infection and hospitalisations.
New York state has by far the highest infection rate of any state in America, logging over 350,000 cases and almost 30,000 deaths.