RICHMOND, Va. -- For many families in Central Virginia, Easter Sunday marked another step toward a return to normalcy as they attended church in person for the first time in more than a year.
Smiles, waves, and excitement filled the halls and rooms of Hill City Church in Richmond Sunday. Greeters were on deck to welcome members and guests to three different live services.
One of those volunteers was Kacy Cosgrove, who has joyfully served on the Hill City team for several years.
"To have been separated for a year and then come back together today of all days has been amazing," Cosgrove said.
Dressed in a "Rejoice" Easter bonnet, Cosgrove joined other volunteers and a DJ to wave and dance with people as they walked into the building. It's an experience Cosgrove said she never wants to take for granted.
"Last year we weren't able to worship together, and it was still joyous, but it was just a reminder of where we were as a community and as a country of the world," said Cosgrove. "And to be able to be together this Sunday means everything to me."
Cosgrove's sentiment was echoed among a number of churchgoers longing to worship with one another once again.
"With the pandemic and vaccine, we're trying to figure out ways to meet in person," said Alex Rodriguez.
He and his wife Kayla spent the past year mostly attending church virtually. However, with COVID-19 cases down and vaccinations rising, they felt comfortable inside a sanctuary again.
"There's just something about that sense of community, being with someone else," they said. "And having someone speak into your life."
Lead pastor John Wagler recognized people across the Richmond region may be feeling the same way as Alex and Kayla, emphasizing the live church experience is impossible to duplicate.
"This could be a big, pivotal day of releasing of some fears, releasing of some hesitancy to be around folks," Wagler explained.
With these expectations, Wagler and his team implemented extra safety guidelines to accommodate larger than usual crows and prevent the spread of Coronavirus.
"We're spacing out the chairs, we're creating gaps everywhere, we have people wearing masks in the services," said Wagler. "We've added a service and have gotten more volunteers and tried to make a safe environment."
Meanwhile, the state's vaccine coordinator, Dr. Danny Avula, reminded Virginians to be thoughtful, especially those who are not yet fully vaccinated.
"When you look at the epi curve over the last year, every time we see a bump, it's around those holiday gathering periods," Avula explained.
Health experts urge those who gathered outside of their household to monitor for symptoms.
"When you get with other people, you increase the risk of disease transmission," said Avula.
No matter how people celebrated, Pastor Wagler believes the message of Easter offers encouragement to families who have suffered through a challenging year.
"There's still hope at the end of this. There is a light at the end of this," said Wagler. "It doesn't take away pain and suffering, but it gives us a hope to look forward to."
Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.
Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Avoid non-essential travel.