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UPDATE: Surviving COVID In Hampton Roads

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

      In the spring when COVID-19 encroached on our lives and made social distancing the new norm, the GUIDE talked to various church and business leaders to see how they were coping.

      It’s been eight months since that story appeared in the GUIDE and we reached out to them, and other business folk and faith leaders  to get an update on how COVID has impacted their world and how they adjusted.

      Hale Funeral Services has been around for 108 years and as Howard Hale-Thornton, the small company’s President, believes that taxes are a constant in our lives, so is death.

  When the GUIDE talked to him in late March, the state of Virginia had limited funeral services to groups of 10 mourners at services.

     Many funeral homes held only graveside services and would not congregate family and mourners in the chapels or churches.

 `    But now according to Hale-Thornton, that number has increased to 50, as the state remains in its third phase of reopening for normal business operations.

      Just half of a church’s or the Hale family chapel is used and mourners are socially distanced.

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      “Business is rolling,” said Hale-Thornton. “We have a lot of business.”

     Thornton said that many families are opting for cremation instead of the traditional services, which is cheaper.

      He said that when staff retrieves bodies at hospitals  and senior retirement homes they don gloves and masks. Hospitals usually alert the funeral service personnel if a deceased person had COVID-19.

      But if a pickup is to be made at a private home, then Hale uses a professional retrieval service for such missions.

     “We may be alerted if the deceased has COVID at a hospital,” said Hale Thornton. “But, we are never sure about a private home. So  we call in the professionals. They wear heavy hazardous material equipment to

 assure they are protected from anything.”

***

      Raha Batts, the Imam of the Masjid Ash-Shura Mosque at 3518 Colley Avenue, said since March, the 150 members of his group have had to modify the mosque’s mode of operation.

     For two months, Imam Batts said the mosque was completely closed.

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  COVID struck heavily in April during Ramadan when the members day-time fast and have meals after sundown.

     So instead of communal meals, people stayed at home to observe the sacred holiday season.

     When the mosque reopened later in the summer, people were allowed to use the space for the five daily prayers socially distanced.

     But the mass prayer session on Friday was not called during the initial opening.  No women or small children were allowed.

     So there was more room  to socially distance as they prayed. The space where women are segregated from men was used by the males to pray. People had to bring their mats, could not use the bathrooms, and after services, the building was sanitized.

      Starting a month ago, women could attend the five daily prayers in their segregated space, which is smaller, but not during the Friday prayer service where only men attend.

     Everyone must wear a mask and they are allowed to use the bathrooms, which are stringently cleaned after services.

   There is a very small and close Black Muslim Community in Hampton Roads. There are four mosques; three in Norfolk and one in Hampton.

   Three of them are within two miles of Masjid Ash-Shura.

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   “We cannot hug or shake hands anymore,” said Imam Raha Batts. “We are very small and have had some families and one fellow Imam who  has tested for it.  We will try to continue visiting and living as a community as best as we are able.”

***

    Norfolk Councilwoman and real  estate agent Angelia Williams-Graves just recently opened her own company.

   She been in the business for several years and put out her own sign, “Homes by Angelia Realty Company”  on faith, wanting “to be my own boss” in a  small shop on East Virginia Beach Boulevard

   Despite COVID-19,  and thanks to lower interest rates, the housing market is booming, especially for newly constructed homes, Graves said.

   But COVID has caused her and others in real estate to rethink how they do business and emphasize safety to assure  their clients enjoy one of the biggest financial investments  they will make.

   “Safety is very important  and I want my clients and me as safe as possible,” said Graves.  “I am running a business so I can’t afford to quarantine for 14 days. Being sick is not an option.”

      Graves said the all important “viewing” of properties  involves the agent and a limited number of family members for a reduced length of time with social distancing, sanitation, and masks.

Virtual buyer-agent inspection of dwelling is in vogue today due to COVID.

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    So are the meeting with the buyer, lender, and agent, who come together to review the terms of the contract and close the deal.

    Graves avoids in-person consultations with potential buyers of home and prefers a virtual interaction.

***

     Most of the historically Black and Christian churches about Hampton Roads have not returned to full  in-person services on Sunday and Wednesday night.

   On October 25,  First Baptist Lambert’s Point had planned  a social distance service outside, but rainfall washed those plans away.

   Last weekend, Rev. Anthony Paige, the church’s senior pastor,  said another “Park and Pray” session would be held in the parking lot of the site.

    Paige said the inability to stage traditional services has not hurt  his tithing and offering contributions. So the church’s  operations and

social support ministries are still on pace.

   The church’s  food and clothes closets for the needy and homeless have been halted. But Paige said funds from church collections have been donated to the local Foodbank to meet a growing need for families for food.

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    Bible Study and prayer meetings are being held virtually.

    “We believe that the virus will be with us for a while,” said Paige.  “I miss  the people. But  we will continue to serve our congregation  and the people in the community.”

***

   COVID-19 has taken a serious toll on the  restaurant industry, as many sites are using partial seating arrangement, only have take out operations, or have closed.

    Back In the spring, Sharon McDonald of Croaker’s Spot in Park Place initially had  implemented a reduced patronage and socially distanced service.

    Now the restaurant only provides call-in and pick-up service for customers.

    Corey Skinner managed to open his  hairstyling salon, also in the Park Place  area,   spending thousands of dollars to outfit  a space for that purpose.

   But he said he had to close the shop since most of the hair specialists preferred working at home. That disrupted the business model he had envisioned.

He is not working out of another shop and his dream of “being my own boss” has been put on hold.”

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dream of “being my own boss” has been put on hold.”

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