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Mississippi churches take services online, into parking lots

April 4, 2020 GMT
Congregants remain in their cars during a prayer service held outside at First United Pentecostal Church, Thursday, April 2, 2020, in Brandon, Miss. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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Congregants remain in their cars during a prayer service held outside at First United Pentecostal Church, Thursday, April 2, 2020, in Brandon, Miss. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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Congregants remain in their cars during a prayer service held outside at First United Pentecostal Church, Thursday, April 2, 2020, in Brandon, Miss. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Some Mississippi houses of worship are offering online services during the coronavirus pandemic. Others are inviting people to sit in vehicles outside the sanctuary to have socially distant prayer and maybe to hear a pastor’s message over the radio.

Gov. Tate Reeves says he does not believe government has the power to shut down churches, but he strongly prefers that people not gather in parking lots for worship.

“It’s just hard to overcome our natural tendency to get out and say hello,” Reeves said Friday.

Mississippi is under the Republican governor’s statewide stay-at-home order that began Friday evening and extends until the morning of April 20. People are being told to minimize their errands to essentials like grocery shopping.

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The state Health Department said Saturday that Mississippi has more than 1,400 confirmed coronavirus cases and 35 deaths. The state has about 3 million residents.

Many people moving around their communities may not know they have contracted the virus until well after they’ve infected others. Most infected people experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, but a fraction suffering more severe illnesses can require ventilators to survive. As the caseload rapidly grows, hospitals are bracing for a wave of patients.

Mississippi public schools remain closed through at least April 17. If that decision remains in place, the first day back would be April 20, when the stay-at-home order is set to expire. Reeves said Friday that he will continue to evaluate whether to extend the school closures, but he didn’t specify how soon he might make a decision.

A Jackson attorney who is in isolation at home as she recovers from COVID-19 said people in Mississippi need to take the virus more seriously. Felisha Sheppard said she got tested after losing her sense of taste and smell, then felt she had overreacted because she lacked other symptoms.

The test came back positive. Sheppard told WJTV-TV she doesn’t know how she got exposed to the virus.

“I have friends who are still accumulating with one another,” Sheppard said. ”I started thinking, to most people, this is just an elusive idea. It’s happening in other places.”