How Savannah churches are celebrating second Holy Week during coronavirus pandemic

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Today is Good Friday, one of several holy days leading up to Easter Sunday. One of the most notable local celebrations happens at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint John the Baptist.

But there are still concerns about coronavirus and crowds.

“This year, we’re allowing in as many as 350 people, which still gives plenty of room for social distancing in the cathedral,” said Father Gerry Schreck, the rector of the cathedral. “We’re also live-streaming the ceremony so that people can celebrate from home if they wish.”

Father Schreck says last year, the cathedral was closed to the public. In the past year, he says the Catholic Diocese has learned how to safely celebrate.

It’s one reason why this year’s celebration is one step closer to what it usually looks like.

“I think because of the number of cases dropping and the availability of vaccines — I’ve had my 2 shots — I think a lot of people are comfortable coming back to a larger crowd,” said Father Schreck.

“They just know how to do it safely and respect each other and their space and it’s just been beautiful,” said Carrie Boor, a Savannah resident who has a son in the choir.

Memorial Health Doctor and Chief Associate Medical Officer Stephen Thacker says there is a way for churches to safely hold in-person services this weekend, though there is no way to completely eliminate the risk.

He says to look to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for advice.

“I would tell you that the key tenants are about keeping people spaced, minimizing mass gatherings, and looking to strategies to keep areas clean,” he said.

For those celebrating privately, the CDC say it is safe to gather without masks if everyone is fully vaccinated. If not, avoid crowded, indoor spaces and distance yourself from people you do not live with.

The CDC says you can also consider other options instead of inside gatherings. It suggests holding outdoor, virtual, or drive-through events.

Father Schreck says he is thankful things are looking up, especially now during Holy Week.

“The ice is thawing,” he said. “And we’re beginning to get back to some normalcy, we hope.”

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