Trump-appointed justice could signal major Supreme Court shift on abortion

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With President Donald Trump poised to nominate a U.S. Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy created by the death of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a new 6-3 conservative majority could be emboldened to roll back abortion rights.

The ultimate objective for U.S. conservative activists for decades has been to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. But short of that, there are other options the court has in curtailing abortion rights.

Republican-led states including Ohio, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas and Alabama have passed a variety of abortion restrictions in recent years. Some that seek to ban abortion at an early stage of pregnancy are still being litigated in lower courts and could reach the justices relatively soon.

Abortion is one the most divisive issues in the United States. Conservative opposition to it has been a driving force behind Republicans, including Trump, making a high priority of judicial appointments in recent years.

“Roe v. Wade is on the line in a way it never has been before,” said Julie Rikelman, a lawyer with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which regularly challenges abortion restrictions.

Even if Roe is not overturned, “we could be in a situation where the court is upholding even more restrictions on abortion,” Rikelman added.

Trump has said he intends to announce his nomination on Saturday, with conservative appeals court judges Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa considered the frontrunners to be named to succeed Ginsburg, who was a strong defender of abortion rights. Ginsburg died on Friday at age 87.

The leadership of the Republican-controlled Senate is poised to move forward with the nomination even as Trump seeks re-election on Nov. 3.

Even though the court had a 5-4 conservative majority before Ginsburg’s death, some activists on the right were concerned about Chief Justice John Robert’s incremental approach. Roberts angered conservatives by siding with the court’s liberals in June when the court ruled 5-4 to strike down a Louisiana abortion restriction involving a requirement imposed on doctors who perform the procedure.

Roberts, who wrote a separate opinion explaining his views, signaled he may back other abortion restrictions in future cases but said he felt compelled to strike down Louisiana’s law because the justices just four years earlier had invalidated a similar law in Texas.

Trump vowed during the 2016 presidential campaign to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. He already has appointed conservatives Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the court. Both voted to uphold the Louisiana law.

Anti-abortion groups are pushing for Trump to pick Barrett, a conservative Roman Catholic who he appointed to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017. Although she has not yet ruled directly on abortion as a judge, Barrett has twice signaled opposition to rulings that struck down abortion-related restrictions.

Abortion rights activists have voiced concern that Barrett would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

STATE-BY-STATE EFFORTS

Broadly speaking, Republican-controlled states have enacted two types of abortion laws: measures that would impose burdensome regulations on abortion providers and those that would ban abortions during the early stages of pregnancy.

The latter laws in particular directly challenge Roe v. Wade and a subsequent 1992 ruling that upheld it. Those two rulings made clear that women have a constitutional right to obtain an abortion at least up until the point when the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks or soon after.

Legal challenges to laws recently enacted in conservative states that directly challenge the Roe precedent by banning abortion outright or in early stages of pregnancy are still being litigated in lower courts.

One appeal pending at the Supreme Court that the justices will discuss whether to hear in the coming months is Mississippi’s bid to revive a law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

In a separate case the court could act upon at any time, the Trump administration has asked the justices to put on hold a federal judge’s decision to block during the coronavirus pandemic a U.S. Food and Drug Administration rule requiring women to visit a hospital or clinic to obtain a drug used for medication-induced abortions.

Clarke Forsythe, a lawyer with the Americans United for Life anti-abortion group that has urged Barrett’s appointment, said he expects the Supreme Court to “continue with an incremental approach” even if Trump’s nominee is confirmed, in part because of Roberts’ opinion in the Louisiana case.

But Jennifer Dalven, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which backs abortion rights, said that with only four votes among the justices needed to take up a case, a newly emboldened conservative wing could force Roberts’ hand and take up a more direct challenge to Roe.

“Now,” Dalven said, “Chief Justice Roberts and his concern for the integrity for the court and his potential for being an incrementalist is not enough.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)

U.S. COVID-19 deaths surpass 190,000; Iowa and South Dakota emerge as new hotspots

By Anurag Maan

(Reuters) – Coronavirus deaths in the United States topped 190,000 on Wednesday along with a spike in new cases in the U.S. Midwest with states like Iowa and South Dakota emerging as the new hotspots in the past few weeks.

Iowa currently has one of the highest rates of infection in the nation, with 15% of tests last week coming back positive. Nearby South Dakota has a positive test rate of 19% and North Dakota is at 18%, according to a Reuters analysis.

The surge in Iowa and South Dakota is being linked to colleges reopening in Iowa and an annual motorcycle rally last month in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Kansas, Idaho and Missouri are also among the top 10 states for positive test rates.

New coronavirus infections have fallen for seven weeks in a row for the United States with a death rate of about 6,100 per week from COVID-19 in the last month.

On a per capita basis, the United States ranks 12th in the world for the number of deaths, with 58 deaths per 100,000 people, and 11th in the world for cases, with 1,933 cases per 100,000 residents, according to a Reuters analysis.

U.S. confirmed cases are highest in the world with now over 6.3 million followed by India with 4.4 million cases and Brazil with 4.2 million. The U.S. death toll is also the highest in the world.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had forecast last month that the U.S. death toll will reach 200,000 to 211,000 by Sept. 26.

The University of Washington’s health institute last week forecasted that the U.S. deaths from the coronavirus will reach 410,000 by the end of the year.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

COVID-19 cases rise in U.S. Midwest and Northeast, deaths fall for third week

(Reuters) – Several states in the U.S. Midwest and Northeast have seen new COVID-19 cases increase for two weeks in a row, though nationally both new infections and deaths last week remained on a downward trend, a Reuters analysis showed.

The United States reported more than 287,000 new cases in the week ended Sept. 6, down 1.4% from the previous week and marking the seventh straight week of declines. More than 5,800 people died from COVID-19 last week, the third week in a row that the death rate has fallen.

Nevertheless, 17 states have seen cases rise for at least two weeks, according to the Reuters tally of state and county reports. They include Missouri, North Dakota and Wisconsin, where between 10% and 18% of people tested had the new coronavirus.

In the Northeast, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York also reported increases in new cases for at least two weeks, though the positive test rate ranged from a low of 0.9% in New York to a high of 4.3% in Delaware — below the 5% level the World Health Organization considers concerning.

In some states, testing has increased as schools reopened. New York City, for instance, is testing 10% to 20% of students and staff every month. The University of Illinois is testing students twice a week.

Nationally, the share of all tests that came back positive for COVID-19 fell for a fifth week to 5.5%, well below a peak of nearly 9% in mid-July, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

The United States tested on average 741,000 people a day last week, up 5% from the prior week, but down from a peak in late July of over 800,000 people a day.

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Graphic by Chris Canipe; Editing by Tiffany Wu)

Remnants of Hurricane Laura drench Arkansas as storm heads east

(Reuters) – The remnants of Hurricane Laura were dousing Arkansas on Friday morning and due to bring rain to the East Coast over the weekend.

Now a tropical depression, Laura had proved less damaging than feared, despite arriving in Louisiana this week as one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the United States.

The storm killed at least six people in Louisiana, including four who were killed when trees fell into homes, damaged buildings in Louisiana and Texas and knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of residents.

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to head to the Gulf Coast over the weekend to survey the damage.

The storm was forecast to drop heavy rain over Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky as it headed out to the East Coast, the National Weather Service said.

At its peak upon making landfall on Thursday morning, Laura had maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (241 km per hour), faster than even Hurricane Katrina, which sparked deadly levee breaches in New Orleans in 2005 after arriving with wind speeds of 125 mph.

What would have been a dangerous 20-foot (6-m) storm surge that forecasters had predicted could move 40 miles (64 km) inland was avoided when Laura tacked east just before landfall, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said. That meant a mighty gush of water was not fully pushed up the Calcasieu Ship Channel, which would have given the storm surge an easy path far inland.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Ballot drop boxes are latest battleground in U.S. election fight

By Andy Sullivan and Jarrett Renshaw

(Reuters) – Welcome to the latest partisan flash point in the U.S. presidential election: the ballot drop box.

As U.S. election officials gird for a dramatic expansion of mail voting in the Nov. 3 election, Democrats across the country are promoting drop boxes as a convenient and reliable option for voters who don’t want to entrust their ballots to the U.S. Postal Service.

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, meanwhile, has sued to prevent their use in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state, alleging that the receptacles could enable voting fraud.

Republican officials in other states have prevented their use. Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett told a U.S. Senate committee in July that drop boxes could enable people to violate a state law against collecting ballots.

In Missouri, Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft decided not to distribute 80 drop boxes he had purchased because state law requires those ballots to be returned by mail.

“We didn’t want to cause confusion with voters,” spokeswoman Maura Browning said.

Drop boxes have taken on new urgency after cost-cutting measures at the U.S. Postal Service slowed mail delivery nationwide and Trump has repeatedly attacked the legitimacy of mail ballots. Polls show the Republican president trailing Democratic challenger Joe Biden in a race that some experts say could see half of all votes cast absentee.

Some say the drop box battle is a lot of fuss over a piece of civic furniture — typically a heavily constructed metal box placed in a public location, often monitored by video.

In Connecticut, Secretary of State Denise Merrill is recommending that voters return their ballots via drop box rather than through the mail for the November election, after receiving reports that some ballots mailed a week before the state’s Aug. 11 nominating contests arrived too late to be counted.

Three-quarters of ballots in that August primary were cast absentee, she said, up from roughly 4% in prior years. Merrill, a Democrat, said the state’s 200 newly installed drop boxes had proven a safe and popular option.

“I do not understand why people think they’re such a problem,” Merrill said. “They’re more secure than mailboxes.”

Republicans in Pennsylvania don’t share that sentiment. Trump won that competitive state by less than 1 percentage point in 2016. Winning there again could prove pivotal in his quest to secure a second term in office.

The Trump campaign is suing to force the state to pull all drop boxes used in the June primary. It argues that people could drop off multiple ballots in boxes that are unstaffed, which is an illegal practice in Pennsylvania. State officials “have exponentially enhanced the threat that fraudulent or otherwise ineligible ballots will be cast and counted,” the lawsuit states.

The Trump campaign said in a court filing on Saturday that it had complied with a judge’s order to provide evidence of alleged fraud to the defendants. That evidence has not been made public. Trump lawyers did not respond to a request by Reuters to see it.

Bruce Marks, a former Republican state senator in Pennsylvania, said drop boxes do not provide a clear chain of custody for the ballots deposited inside.

“There’s no one watching or tracking,” he said.

Proponents say stuffing a ballot into a locked drop box is no different from dropping one into a Postal Service letter box. Pennsylvania Republicans oppose drop boxes because Democrats have had much more success in getting their voters to sign up for mail ballots this year, greater than a two-to-on margin, said Brendan Welch, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

“(Republicans) know the easier it is for everyday people to vote, the more likely it is that they will lose,” Welch said. “Maybe they should spend their energy trying to match Pennsylvania Democrats’ organizing efforts in the Keystone State instead.”

Democratic Governor Tom Wolf has defended Pennsylvania’s use of drop boxes, arguing they are legal and essential, particularly in the age of the coronavirus.

ONE BOX, 864,000 VOTERS

In neighboring Ohio, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose said last week that he did not want to risk a similar lawsuit as he announced that he would authorize one drop box for each of the state’s 88 counties. He said the Republican-controlled legislature had not given him the authority to provide more.

Democrats are pressing LaRose to revise his decision, pointing out that it leaves the 864,000 registered voters of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, a Democratic stronghold, with the same number of drop boxes as the 8,400 registered voters of Republican Vinton County.

“You can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach with our counties,” said Kathleen Clyde, a senior adviser for the Biden campaign in Ohio. “One drop box doesn’t cut it.”

LaRose in the meantime is trying to secure prepaid postage for mail ballots, spokeswoman Maggie Sheehan said, “effectively making every mailbox its own drop box.”

Michigan, another battleground state, has added drop boxes this year.

Wisconsin’s five largest cities, including Milwaukee, are setting up drop boxes as part of a secure-voting plan funded by the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit group.

In hotly contested Florida, Democrats in Miami-Dade County, the state’s largest, are seeking to remove some procedural hurdles to make it easier for voters to use drop boxes.

Unlike other counties in the state, Miami-Dade voters must provide election officials with valid identification when dropping off a ballot at a drop box. Election workers also manually record a 14-digit number printed on the voter’s envelope into a log.

The whole process can take up to three minutes, the Democratic Party said in a letter to local election officials seeking to allow voters to drop their ballots quickly without the processing requirements.

“Trump has sabotaged the post office deliberately and we have to find ways around that. We think making it easier to use a drop box, and avoid the post office, is part of the solution,” said Steve Simeonidis, chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.

The White House has said Trump never told the Postal Service to change its operations.

NOT TENSE EVERYWHERE

Security measures required for ballot drop boxes vary by state. In Montana, these receptacles must be staffed by at least two election officials, while in New Mexico they must be monitored by video, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Before 2020, eight states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington — had laws detailing how and where drop boxes could be used.

Returning ballots this way proved popular: In Colorado, Oregon and Washington, more than half of mail ballots were returned either to a drop box or to an election office in the 2016 presidential election, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology survey.

Drop boxes haven’t been controversial in those states.

“Both parties use it at a really high rate, so a lot of those tensions don’t exist here,” said Murphy Bannerman of Election Protection Arizona, a nonpartisan voting-rights group.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington and Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia; Editing by Marla Dickerson)

U.S. surpasses 160,000 coronavirus deaths as school openings near

By Aurora Ellis and Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – More than 160,000 people have died from the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, nearly a quarter of the global total, according to a Reuters tally on Friday, as the country debates whether schools are ready to reopen in coming weeks.

The country recorded 160,003 deaths and 4.91 million cases, the highest caseload in the world, caused in part by lingering problems in making rapid testing widely available and resistance in some quarters to masks and social distancing measures.

Coronavirus deaths are rising in 23 states and cases are rising in 20 states, according to a Reuters analysis of data the past two weeks compared with the prior two weeks.

On a per-capita basis, the United States ranks 10th highest in the world for both cases and deaths.

Friday’s grim milestone marks an increase of 10,000 deaths in nine days in the United States.

Many of those died in California, Florida and Texas, the top three U.S. states for total cases. While new infections appear to be declining in those states, new outbreaks are emerging coast to coast.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the lead coordinator for the White House coronavirus response, warned of worrying upticks in the rate of tests coming back positive in several cities, including Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Washington.

Nearly 300,000 U.S. residents could be dead from COVID-19 by Dec. 1, University of Washington health experts said on Thursday, although they said 70,000 lives could be saved if Americans were scrupulous about wearing masks.

Throughout the country, U.S. officials, teachers’ unions, parents and students were debating how to reopen schools safely.

President Donald Trump has urged states to resume in-person classes, saying the virus “will go away like things go away,” but health officials have told states with rising counts to be on guard.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday some 700 school districts in the state could reopen classrooms, but insisted schools do extensive consultation with teachers, students and parents beforehand.

“If you look at our infection rate we are probably in the best situation in the country right now,” Cuomo told reporters. “If anybody can open schools, we can open schools.”

In New York City, where 1.1 million children attend the country’s largest network of public schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said students’ attendance will be limited to between one and three days each week. Parents in New York City have until Friday to request all-remote learning for their children.

Chicago Public Schools, which make up the country’s third largest school district, reversed course this week, saying students would stick with remote learning when the school year begins.

Some states, including Florida and Iowa, are mandating schools provide at least some in-person learning, while the governors of South Carolina and Missouri have recommended all classrooms reopen.

Texas had initially demanded that schools reopen but has since allowed districts to apply for waivers as the state grapples with a rising caseload. The Houston Independent School District has said that the school year will begin virtually on Sept. 8, but will shift to in-person learning on Oct. 19.

(Reporting by Aurora Ellis and Maria Caspani in New York; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Howard Goller)

Ten more states added to New York quarantine order: Cuomo

(Reuters) – Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered those arriving in New York from an additional 10 states to quarantine for 14 days to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus as cases flare up across the country.

Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, Washington were added to the travel order which was first issued in June. Minnesota was removed.

Travelers arriving in New York from a total of 31 U.S. states are now required to quarantine upon arrival in New York, according to the travel advisory.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. tops 3 million known infections as coronavirus surges

By Callaghan O’Hare and Lisa Shumaker

HOUSTON (Reuters) – The U.S. coronavirus outbreak crossed a grim milestone of over 3 million confirmed cases on Tuesday as more states reported record numbers of new infections, and Florida faced an impending shortage of intensive care unit hospital beds.

Authorities have reported alarming upswings of daily caseloads in roughly two dozen states over the past two weeks, a sign that efforts to control transmission of the novel coronavirus have failed in large swaths of the country.

California, Hawaii, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma and Texas on Tuesday shattered their previous daily record highs for new cases. The biggest jumps occurred in Texas and California, the two largest U.S. states, with more than 10,000 each. About 24 states have reported disturbingly high infection rates as a percentage of diagnostic tests conducted over the past week.

In Texas alone, the number of hospitalized patients more than doubled in just two weeks.

The trend has driven many more Americans to seek out COVID-19 screenings. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on Tuesday it was adding short-term “surge” testing sites in three metropolitan areas in Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

In Houston, a line of more than 200 cars snaked around the United Memorial Medical Center as people waited hours in sweltering heat to get tested. Some had arrived the night before to secure a place in line at the drive-through site.

“I got tested because my younger brother got positive,” said Fred Robles, 32, who spent the night in his car. “There’s so many people that need to get tested, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Dean Davis, 32, who lost his job due to the pandemic, said he arrived at the testing site at 3 a.m. Tuesday after he waited for hours on Monday but failed to make the cutoff.

“I was like, let me get here at 3, maybe nobody will be here,” Davis said. “I got here, there was a line already.”

In Florida, more than four dozen hospitals across 25 of 67 counties reported their intensive care units had reached full capacity, according to the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration. Only 17% of the total 6,010 adult ICU beds statewide were available on Tuesday, down from 20% three days earlier.

Additional hospitalizations could strain healthcare systems in many areas, leading to an uptick in lives lost from the respiratory illness that has killed more than 131,000 Americans to date. At least 923 of those deaths were reported Tuesday, the biggest single-day toll since June 10 but still far fewer than the record 2,806 tallied back in April.

A widely cited mortality model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projected on Tuesday that U.S. deaths would reach 208,000 by Nov. 1, with the outbreak expected to gain new momentum heading into the fall.

A hoped-for summertime decline in transmission of the virus never materialized, the IHME said.

“The U.S. didn’t experience a true end of the first wave of the pandemic,” the IHME’s director, Dr. Christopher Murray, said in a statement. “This will not spare us from a second surge in the fall, which will hit particularly hard in states currently seeing high levels of infections.”

‘PRESSURE ON GOVERNORS’

President Donald Trump, who has pushed for restarting the U.S. economy and urged Americans to return to their normal routines, said on Tuesday he would lean on state governors to open schools in the fall.

Speaking at the White House, Trump said some people wanted to keep schools closed for political reasons. “No way, so we’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools.”

New COVID-19 infections are rising in 42 states, based on a Reuters analysis of the past two weeks. By Tuesday afternoon, the number of confirmed U.S. cases had surpassed 3 million, affecting nearly one of every 100 Americans and a population roughly equal to Nevada’s.

In Arizona, another hot spot, the rate of coronavirus tests coming back positive rose to 26% for the week ended July 5, leading two dozen states with positivity rates exceeding 5%. The World Heath Organization considers a rate over 5% to be troubling.

The surge has forced authorities to backpedal on moves to reopen businesses, such as restaurants and bars, after mandatory lockdowns in March and April reduced economic activity to a virtual standstill and put millions of Americans out of work.

The Texas state fair, which had been scheduled to open on Sept. 25, has been canceled for the first time since World War Two, organizers announced on Tuesday.

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine said the state was ordering people in seven counties to wear face coverings in public starting Wednesday evening.

(Reporting by Callaghan O’Hare in Houston and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani, Gabriella Borter, Caroline Humer and Peter Szekely in New York and Susan Heavey and Jeff Mason in Washington Writing by Paul Simao and Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Cynthia Osterman, Tom Brown and Leslie Adler)

Tropical depression Cristobal moving into Missouri, U.S. NHC says

(Reuters) – Tropical depression Cristobal is moving into Missouri with some strengthening forecasted during the next 36 hours as it transitions into an extratropical cyclone, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Tuesday.

Cristobal was located about 80 miles (130 km) east-southeast of Springfield, Missouri, packing a maximum sustained winds of 30 miles-per-hour (45 km/h), the Miami-based weather forecaster said in its latest advisory.

(Reporting by K. Sathya Narayanan in Bengaluru, editing by Louise Heavens)

As coronavirus ‘storm cloud’ gathers, church in Missouri braces for mourning

By Makini Brice

(Reuters) – When Traci Blackmon, the senior pastor for a predominantly black church in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri, is finally able to open the doors for service again, one of her main concerns is the collective sorrow her congregation will experience.

Five members of her 180-strong congregation have gotten sick from the coronavirus and two have died. Two others have died during lockdown due to other causes.

But because the doors of Christ the King United Church of Christ have been closed since the end of March to help stop the spread of the virus, members of the church have not been able to be together and console each other.

“It’s almost like a suspended grief,” said Pastor Blackmon. “It’s like when a storm cloud is hanging over and you know that it is going to rain, but it hasn’t fully rained yet.”

Protestant churches with predominantly African-American congregations has played a crucial role in U.S. history, forging historically black colleges and universities such as Morehouse College in Georgia, fueling the Civil Rights Movement, and serving as campaign stop mainstays for political candidates interested in appealing to black voters.

Many of these churches are now bracing to play a prominent role as the United States grieves for its coronavirus dead.

More than 98,000 people in the United States have lost their lives after battling COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and a disproportionate number of them have been black.

In Missouri, while only 11.8% of the state’s residents are black, they account for 37% of reported deaths from COVID-19, according to figures released by the Missouri Department of Health.

Similar racial disparities have appeared across the United States.

Black Americans are the most religious ethnic group in the country, with nearly half attending religious service at least once a week.

One of those faithful was Christ the King’s Eugene Young.

Young would drive his wife, Annie, who he married nearly 45 years ago, to and from church services in the St. Louis area every Sunday, she recalled recently in a telephone interview. He called her “Precious” and was always able to make her laugh. She called him “Sunshine.”

She described a “storybook romance,” with three sons she calls her “kings,” 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Young became sick from the coronavirus in April, though it remains unclear how he caught it. He died at the age of 61, on Easter Sunday, April 12.

“It’s so fresh for me. It’s still unbelievable to me,” Annie Young said.

Because of social distancing guidelines to stop the spread of the virus, Young’s family had a visitation at a funeral home, not the church, limited to ten people at a time. There was no touching or hugging to comfort family members. Everyone needed to wear a mask.

“My three kings and myself got to see him by ourselves, just the four of us, and we got to spend just a little while with him,” she recalled. “So that was our time to say goodbye.”

Christ the King’s congregation has been keeping in touch through the crisis through Zoom calls, Facebook live streams of sermons given from Blackmon’s dining room and Bible studies conducted over the phone, but it isn’t exactly the same, members say.

Wesley Hurt, 77, and his wife Linda joined the Christ the King congregation more than 40 years ago, and have continued to attend services online during the lockdown.

“The whole camaraderie thing is lost, to a certain extent. We are a church that likes to fix meals for each other and we do a lot of cooking. So we haven’t had that opportunity to meet and come together and have our church dinners like we’d normally have,” Hurt said.

Though Missouri allowed churches to reopen on May 4, Christ the King United Church of Christ remains closed. Blackmon said she remains cautious until she sees progress in a number of factors, including testing.

Blackmon had initially planned to hold an Easter service when people were able to safely sit in the pews again, no matter the date.

But she worries now that the celebratory holiday would ring false for people grappling with all that had been lost from the pandemic.

Instead, she is considering devoting the first service to Good Friday, the Christian holiday commemorating the death of Jesus.

“There are a lot of things you can do over Zoom and there are a lot of things that you can do on different channels of the Internet, but what you cannot do is feel,” she said.

(Reporting by Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons, Ed Tobin and Rosalba O’Brien)