Irene Pintado was out for a walk with two friends — several feet apart, she said — at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Columbus when they heard the St. James United Methodist Church bells ringing.
Pintado said she hoped the sound reminds people that “we’re in this together” during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially while the state is under a “shelter in place” order.
“When you tell people that they can’t do something, can’t go out (or) eat out, you’re taking away from them,” said Pintado, a health education professor at the Mississippi University for Women. “It’s better to give people something they can do. Instead of saying you’re not going out, you’re protecting other people by avoiding that contact. I think the bells are a positive thing, something that is happening, and it hopefully gives people a sense of purpose that we’re going to get through this together because we’re doing something.”
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann sent a letter to religious leaders across the state last week asking houses of worship to ring their bells for one minute at 6 p.m. from April 6 to April 20, the last day of Gov. Tate Reeves’ shelter in place order that began at 5 p.m. on April 3. The gesture is “in recognition of our health care workers on the front lines, in prayer for those who are sick and in an attempt to unify Mississippians in sound and spirit.”
He also asked everyone to ring their own bells in the front yard, something that Starkville has a unique capacity to do thanks to the Mississippi State University cowbell tradition, First Baptist Church Associate Pastor Jason Duran said. He called the bell ringing “a good reminder that we need to take a moment and pray for those who are giving their all in this time.”
The First Presbyterian Church in Columbus is less than a mile away from Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, and Roger Burlingame said he hopes health care professionals can hear the bells when he rings them every day, if they happen to step outside right at 6 p.m.
“There are a lot of trees around our church, so I don’t know how well the sound is getting out,” Burlingame said. “But the attempt is to recognize those people in our medical community who are working extra long hours and being extra vigilant to take care of the community, and we have a number of health specialists in our congregation as well.”
Churches are not the only entities in Columbus ringing their bells. MUW facilities manager Steve Jenkins received permission from university president Nora Miller to have the clock tower bell programmed to ring at 6 p.m. starting Tuesday.
Jenkins said he checked to make sure the bells started chiming on time and saw Miller on the front porch at the president’s residence, which “has the best view of the clock tower of anyone,” he said.
“I think I counted 32 chimes yesterday, so I’m glad they didn’t pick 6 a.m. to do this,” Miller said with a laugh.
She said she appreciated the daily opportunity to think about the “saints” on the front lines of the pandemic, including many MUW nursing students who take classes remotely while working in hospitals.
Pintado said she hopes the sound reminds the public that they are “the first line of defense” against COVID-19 — not just health care professionals, as “everybody likes to say.”
“We’re the ones that are supposed to social distance and stop the spread,” she said. “The bells are a great message of solidarity. We can flatten the curve, and that will give nurses and doctors and (other) medical professionals a chance to catch their breath and be able to take care of those that do become sick. That’s really why I love the idea of the bells, that sense of togetherness.”
Tess Vrbin was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.