Often Safe Havens, Latino Churches Adjust To Keep Members Healthy During Pandemic

Often Safe Havens, Latino Churches Adjust To Keep Members Healthy During Pandemic

4:44pm Aug 05, 2021
Daniel Sostaita, on the right, volunteering in a vaccine campaign on March 6, 2021. Photo courtesy: Enrique Catania

Every Sunday at La Iglesia Cristiana sin Fronteras, the band begins playing at 10:00 am after thanking everyone that’s in attendance both in person and on Facebook live. People come in and sit at a sensible distance from each other, but near their loved ones, and rise to sing Hosanna in unison. Then everything goes quiet when Pastor Daniel Sostaita arrives at the podium. 

The church had more than 200 attendees before the pandemic. This past Sunday, nearly 50 people attended mass in person, and eight people tuned in online. 

Founder and Pastor Daniel Sostaita says the church has not been fully reopened, and he limited the number of people who attended mass to protect the congregation and attendees. Now, he says numbers have gone down.

“We reacted really fast, even though the government was really skeptical about what was happening. I would see the news in Europe and think ‘this is really serious,’” says Sostaita. 

At the peak of the pandemic, Sostaita quickly adapted to zoom, organized a mental health support committee, connected and affiliated with the food pantry in Winston-Salem, and supplied food every day from May to September 2020. The church also had a close relationship with hospitals since they already provided free annual check-ups, and got hospital volunteers, doctors, and psychologists to attend weekly church events organized to inform members of the congregation and attendees about COVID-19. 

Since the beginning, the church has been working to make people in the congregation aware of vaccination since it became readily available.

"It has been really difficult since a lot of people don’t believe in it,” he lamented, “and sadly the people who don’t believe in the vaccine are the ones who are going to cause a rise in infections again.”

Lorenza Hernandez, the church treasurer who has been attending Iglesia Cristiana sin Fronteras since it opened eight years ago, said that closing the church and only allowing a few members of the congregation to attend was radical and difficult, but necessary. “Nobody got COVID here. I was one of the few who would attend, but always with a mask, with hygiene, and now we’re a little bit more off the hook, but we’re still being very careful.”

There have been zero cases in the church, and that has been thanks to Sostaita's efforts to follow COVID-19 regulations. Currently, he says 80% of the congregation has gotten vaccinated. 

“I have two convictions. To me, God and science go hand in hand. I believe God throughout the years has given understanding and creativity to doctors,” Sostaita explained. “It took a couple of my friends and colleagues to believe in the vaccine and the work of scientists, and a lot of them had to experience it in order to believe it.”

This is what happened to Pastor Rene Reyes, who contracted the disease at El Faro de Gracia in Walkertown and was battling the disease for nearly a month.   

“We were meeting during the pandemic and, since we were a small group of people, the congregation kept meeting outside and with masks,” said Reyes. “But even doing this, we still got sick.”

After most members of the congregation got sick, the church closed for a month, explained Reyes, but has been open since. They would meet outside with masks when they had meetings but mass was inside the church.

Nearly 1000 new cases have been reported in Forsyth County in the last 14 days, and there has been a recent resurgence of cases in the Hispanic community. In the past week, 62 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported. The low vaccination rate across the state leaves a lot of members of the community vulnerable to catching and spreading the virus, and now the delta variant has been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a real threat, leaving most members of the community exposed. 

At the moment, Sostaita said the most important work La Iglesia Cristiana sin Fronteras' congregation is doing is promoting vaccination, and focusing on the residues of the pandemic, such as mental health, and on family dynamics. Sotaita believes that the main focus needs to be getting everyone on board with vaccinations, which is why the church has partnered up with Wake Forest Baptist Health mobile clinic to administer the vaccine directly at the church. 

Eileen Rodriguez is a reporter for both WFDD and La Noticia through Report for America, where she covers COVID-19's impact in the Latino Communities. You can read this story in Spanish at La Noticia.

Periodista de La Noticia y 88.5 WFDD, Eileen Rodríguez reporta el impacto de COVID-19 en la comunidad Latina en Carolina del Norte. Rodríguez es miembro del cuerpo de periodistas de Report for America 2021-2022

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