Dr. Ngozi Ezike, former director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, speaks at a press conference about COVID-19 in Illinois on March 20 in Chicago. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — Officials are begging Chicagoans to practice social distancing as they celebrate Easter and Passover, major holidays for people who are Christian and Jewish.

“It’s important that we all know that the decisions we make today have real consequences and they extend beyond ourselves as individuals,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Saturday. “Let me be clear: If there are churches that were planning to convene tomorrow, please cancel now. We can’t risk spreading the virus through this church congregation. We do have evidence of people who got sick through attending church and other similar gatherings. Let’s not do that.”

Easter falls on Sunday, while Passover started Wednesday and is celebrated until April 16. The holidays normally bring together families for things like egg hunts, holiday meals and church or synagogue services. But officials have repeatedly asked people to forgo family celebrations and religious services amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Such gatherings could lead to the virus spreading further, Gov. JB Pritzker and Ezike said.

“I’m a woman of faith. I miss being at church, Bible study, prayer groups, laying-on of hands. This is not the time. We don’t want to hurt the people we’re intending to commune with,” Ezike said Wednesday. “Congregations, church meetings [are] ill-advised at this time. Find a way to do the services electronically.”

You can find a schedule of streaming and broadcast Chicago Catholic church services here and a national lineup featuring other denominations here.

Last week, Ezike said there have been reports of people still holding religious services despite the state’s stay at home order. She asked that religious organizations stop doing that and instead hold virtual services online or over the phone.

Officials noted that visits with family members — even if those relatives have also been practicing social distancing from others — pose risk of spreading the virus and are ill-advised.

Pritzker specifically asked people not to travel for religious services or to see family members for the holidays. He also suggested people use online technology, like video calls, to “visit” their family members amid the holidays.

“This is an important holy time of year. I want very much for people to experience the spirituality that they normally would. We live in a very difficult time,” Pritzker said. “And I would suggest that, unfortunately, we all should start to think about how we’re gonna use technology in order for us to gather, in order to hear our pastor or our rabbi or our imam or whoever we worship with, to listen to them and to worship online, perhaps by video or by phone. And to connect with family in the same way.

“This is a time when you gotta look for another way to do that. It is very important that you do not gather in a place of worship or in somebody’s home. … We’ve got to protect each other. This is one Easter, one Passover [where] you’re gonna have to do something unusual in the way you worship.”

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