SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — One of San Jose’s oldest and most well-respected black churches has carved out a unique role on the frontline of the pandemic as a mass testing site, even as the church itself has largely been shuttered and has not held in-person worship services in nearly a year.

More than 36,000 tests have been administered at the Emmanuel Baptist Church site since it opened during the fall surge in October.

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“There’s nothing like sitting with a family member who feels responsible because they brought the virus into a household and they lost a loved one. That’s a burden that no one should have to carry,” Senior Pastor Jason Reynolds told KPIX 5.

Pastor Reynolds says the church banned in-person church services after the initial stay-at-home public health order last March. For nearly a year, Pastor Reynolds has delivered his weekly Sunday sermon to an empty church and pews filled cardboard cutouts of the parishioners watching online at home.

Pastor Reynolds says the church embraced the county’s offer to become a mass testing site, utilizing its empty and unused gymnasium and banquet hall.

“Having the knowledge, as best we can, of if I’ve been infected, if I’m currently infected, if I’m asymptomatic, just seemed like the logical next step. How do we help our congregation and how do we help all of those who are around us,” said Pastor Reynolds.

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The Emmanuel Baptist testing site has quickly grown in popularity. Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, testing coordinator with Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department, says having the church’s help has been invaluable, especially as they try to reach hard hit communities of color.

“There’s a lot of mistrust in communities. There’s a little disinformation. And so it’s so important to find community leaders and places were people have trust and that have deep roots,” said Dr. Fenstersheib.

Emmanuel Baptist is located in East San Jose in a community that has experienced one of the highest infection rates in Santa Clara County. According to the public health department, roughly one out of every ten residents in the church’s 95127 zip code has been infected with the virus.

Pastor Reynolds says the church is negotiating with the county to possibly become a vaccination site as well.

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“We’re kind of glad that it flourished in the way that it flourished. And now the question is ‘What’s next?’ Do we transition as testing is slowly but surely waning? Maybe, the next step for us is we become a vaccination site,” said Pastor Reynolds.