Virus prompts changes

Virus reshaping work, worship, assembly; live stream funerals begin

By Vee Wright

COVID-19 is dramatically transforming, in increasingly Orwellian ways, how we in the known world now live, worship, work and play.

Though the greatest impacts are being felt in large cities and major metropolitan areas, small cities like Monroe are making drastic changes to the norm as well. In light of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proclamation regarding gatherings, these changes are being felt in few places as keenly as they are at funeral homes.

Business is moving online, says Miller Funeral Home Vice President and Funeral Director Rick Miller.

About clients, Miller says, “should they want a full-blown funeral, we are going to have to limit them to immediate family. And it’s down to 10 now, so the only other option would be to televise it — the memorial service” — on YouTube and Facebook.

“The televising thing, Miller adds, “is something I have been trying to do for several years, not as a result of what’s happening now,” but the timing is fortuitous. “So as for having 50 people or 100 people show up, we would just have to tell them that they can catch it on Youtube TV. Otherwise, I can’t think of any other way to do it.”

Meanwhile, Miller believes that people will be reluctant to gather in large numbers, even at memorials. As an example, he cites last week’s ceremony at Ouachita Parish High School in honor of Fred “Bear” McHenry, the school’s legendary athletic director who retired just last year. According to Miller, not more than 75 people attended.

Locally, many small businesses, churches, as well as parents and guardians of school-age children are relying heavily on technology in lieu of assembling, but also on God and new business models, among other survival tools.

Sheneika Willis is the owner of the event planning company, Lavish Events Design. There were several events on her books before worries about the coronavirus began to grow on these shores, sharply disrupting her fledgling business. “A lot of people are canceling and it’s costing me money,” says Willis who is becoming more creative to counter the setbacks.

In part, this means that she is moving toward offering online classes to clients to teach them to do themselves what heretofore they’d hired professionals like her to do. “It has to be online, more digital.”

Feeling the effects of COVID-19, too, churches are going online until they can worship corporately. Many, like the 750-seat Greater New Antioch Baptist Church, will use teleconference technology for smaller gatherings.

Facebook, says the Rev. John Russell, is New Antioch’s Plan B. “This technology will be more prevalent. We will do another live feed this Sunday like we did last Sunday,” Russell says.

In accordance with the governor’s COVID-19 proclamation, students began staying home from school on March 16. Looking after them has fallen to their caretakers, like the ones who stopped by Carroll Junior High School on March 17, the first day that grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches could be picked up.

Alverne Jones, a CNA at St. Francis Medical Center, is using an honor system with her grandson. She is trusting that her 7th grader is reading the bible and praying, plus doing his homework.

As for COVID-19, Jones, says it hasn’t disrupted her routine because she has prepared for such a time as this, thanks to a video years ago that predicted signs of the end times. “God had already told us that all of this stuff has got to take place when this world is going to come to an end,” she says.

A grandmother like Jones, Deborah Smith-Lovejoy is being more intentional about finding something to keep her charges occupied. “They can’t go to the library because all of the programs are suspended, so I have books, so they are doing a lot of reading,” she says. ” We are just … trying to maintain.”

Though grateful for the Remind app that allows her to work remotely as a teacher’s aide at Carroll High School, Smith-Lovejoy says she is still ill at ease. The fallout from COVID-19, she explains, “is sort of like 911 and Hurricane Katrina put together. There is a lot of uncertainty in the air.”