Court Declines to Halt Indoor Services at Grace Community Church; Church Must Comply with Masking and Social Distancing (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Late Saturday, 8/15/20, CA Court of Appeal set aside Judge Chalfant’s partial denial and upheld LA County’s Health Order. See this post for more on the Court of Appeal action.
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Today, Judge James Chalfant granted in part and denied in part Los Angeles County’s request for a restraining order against Grace Community Church. John MacArthur led the church to defy the California public health restrictions on indoor worship and filed suit against the state. In response, LA County filed for a restraining order to stop the church from meeting.

Although the judge declined to halt indoor worship altogether, he ordered the church to “comply with the mandates of the Health Orders to wear face coverings and practice physical distancing.” This practice will be a departure from the last two sundays when very few people in the congregation wore masks and the congregation did not sit apart. The county health department will also be allowed to be on site to monitor compliance.

According to press release from the church, MacArthur said, “I am very  grateful the court has allowed us to meet inside and we are happy for a few weeks to comply and respect what the judge has asked of us because he is allowing is to meet.” The full hearing on the matter is slated for September 4.

The church is framing this as full vindication.  In fact, according to Judge Chalfant’s order, the restraining order was denied in part and granted in part. The accurate picture is that the church did not follow safe practices before, but now they have to as a condition of meeting indoors. According to Chalfant’s order, Grace is prohibited from meeting indoors unless the church complies with masking and physical distancing. I asked the public relations firm representing the church if this social distancing requirement would limit the number in attendance but the representative did not have the answer to that question.

Judge Chalfant’s order

LA County’s complaint against Grace Community Church

Grace Community Church’s suit against California

And a Little Tweet Shall Lead Them – Response to John MacArthur’s Worship Service

I thought about writing a post about John MacArthur’s decision to defy Governor Newsom’s restrictions of church gatherings. I planned to argue that his decision places his congregation and community in jeopardy. I also find fault with his Christian nationalist rationale for violating a legitimate public health edict. However, sometimes a tweet does this trick. Take this one from Hunter Crowder:

The state of California has a compelling interest in limiting the spread of COVID-19. California now has overtaken New York in the number of cases in the U.S.  Indoor church activities make spread easier for the virus and it is easy to understand why the governor wants to limit indoor crowd size.

The Supreme Court twice has let stand rulings that allowed states to restrict religious services and they may do it again. MacArthur may be using this for attention, I don’t know. However, given the situation before us, Hunter has as good a theory as anyone.

Additional information:

I have been tracking churches as a source of spread of COVID-19. You can see that post here.

For more on the COVID-19 outbreak at Allaso Ranch, click here.

Allaso Ranch’s Health Screening Form – “All Reasonable Measures to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19”

Many have asked to see the COVID-19 waiver and health screening form. While it doesn’t seem to have the force of a waiver, it does screen for COVID-19 symptoms. It is vague about the risks involved and doesn’t spell out the extent of contact students will have with each other, volunteers, and staff.

The small print is really small so I have enlarged that section below:

There doesn’t appear to be an agreement to hold the camp harmless if a child falls ill to COVID-19. This document isn’t much help from an informed consent perspective. It says the Ranch is taking “all reasonable measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” A reasonable measure that children were required to do on the bus ride to the Ranch was wear a mask. However, as soon as they were there, the teens were allowed to take them off, never to wear them again. That was an unreasonable measure. Given the trust many parents have in church leaders, I can see why parents would have thought that the Ranch would have required safer procedures.

In fact, according to the CDC guidelines for summer camps, the procedures at the camp placed campers and volunteers in the next to highest risk category.

The more people a camper or staff member interacts with, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. The risk of COVID-19 spread increases in youth camp settings as follows:

  • Lowest Risk: Small groups of campers stay together all day, each day. Campers remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects. Outdoor activities are prioritized. All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., city, town, county, community).

  • More Risk: Campers mix between groups but remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects. Outdoor activities are prioritized. All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).

  • Even More Risk: Campers mix between groups and do not remain spaced apart. All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).

  • Highest Risk: Campers mix between groups and do not remain spaced apart. All campers are not from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).

In comparison to these guidelines, campers were in the “even more risk” category. Parents were not informed of this.

As of today, the church has remained mostly silent to the public with brief statements claiming CDC guidelines were followed with ill campers. However, what about the other CDC guidelines? The church has yet to come out with an explanation for why the other guidelines weren’t followed or provide a plan moving forward.

If you are a parent or camper with more information about your time at Allaso Ranch, you may contact me via email here.

Did Allaso Ranch Follow CDC Guidelines During Fellowship Church Camp?

In yesterday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Fellowship Church issued a statement saying Allaso Ranch followed CDC guidelines during camp sessions in July. While it seems clear that the church did follow some guidelines, it seems just as clear that they did not follow critical mitigation guidelines such as social distancing and use of masks.

The CDC updated Suggestions for Youth and Summer Camps in June.  Reviewing these guidelines, it appears that Allaso Ranch selectively followed them. The CDC set risk parameters as follows:

The more people a camper or staff member interacts with, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. The risk of COVID-19 spread increases in youth camp settings as follows:

  • Lowest Risk: Small groups of campers stay together all day, each day. Campers remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects. Outdoor activities are prioritized. All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., city, town, county, community).
  • More Risk: Campers mix between groups but remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects. Outdoor activities are prioritized. All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).
  • Even More Risk: Campers mix between groups and do not remain spaced apart. All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).
  • Highest Risk: Campers mix between groups and do not remain spaced apart. All campers are not from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).

Anyone following any of the media on this story will know that campers and volunteers did not wear masks and did not stay 6 feet apart. Based on what I’ve seen and what parents and campers have said, the Allaso Ranch has placed campers at “even more risk.” Campers were mixed together in large groups, they were not spaced apart, activities were indoor and outdoor, but they were all from the same community (as far as I know). Examine the photos below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are numerous photos like these. The only masks I have seen were in a skit where the mouths were cut out of the masks. Otherwise campers and volunteers were not wearing masks. They did not social distance.

Some have complained that camp would be impossible with masks and social distancing. However, according to CDC guidelines — which Fellowship Church claimed to follow — masks and distancing are part of what can make camp safe. From the guidelines:

Cloth Face Coverings

  • Teach and reinforce the use of cloth face coverings. Face coverings may be challenging for campers (especially younger campers) to wear in all-day settings such as camp. Face coverings should be worn by staff and campers (particularly older campers) as feasible, and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult. Information should be provided to staff and campers on proper use, removal, and washing of cloth face coverings.

Masks are “most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult” says the CDC. That would be much of the time during camp.

In light of the CDC guidelines, I ask Fellowship Church and Allaso Ranch again why they didn’t follow them. They obviously know about them because they invoked them in their statement to the Star-Telegram.

The church is clearly following the media and public reaction. Late on Thursday, Amy Smith posted a promo for Fellowship Church’s Mix Camp on Twitter. Within the hour, the video had been removed from Youtube. Amy was able to post it to Twitter.

By the way, don’t miss the inclusion of black lives matter at the beginning as a crazy moment.

UPDATE: One of the mothers who publicly posted on Facebook updated her information late Thursday.

I want to add to this post. I did receive a call from Scott Wilson at Fellowship Church and discussed the situation and the church took action to start calling families. There have been many kids testing positive post camp. Covid-19 is tricky and you can have the virus without any symptoms. Many people get a headache and if not being vigilant- I could have missed the signs because they were not outright significant. Most of the children I know who’ve had Covid-19 have a slight fever and headache. While this may not be everyone’s experience, for us, it has not been the crazy the media has been depicting. Please continue to pray for healing for those effected in our lives. Choose the power of prayer and believe God will continue to guide us all through these uncertain times.

Although no numbers of cases were given, if “many kids” are testing positive, it seems like it would be prudent to postpone camp for the rest of the summer. Obviously, Texas is a hot spot and it seems likely that infected students or volunteers or staff are going to start the spreading all over again after the current two week break.

Fellowship Church Remains Silent on COVID-19 Outbreak at Allaso Ranch

Yesterday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an article about the outbreak of COVID-19 cases among campers and staff voluneers at Allaso Ranch. As I did the day before, the paper reported that an unknown number of campers (according to one parent as many as 80 at present) contracted COVID-19 at Allaso Ranch during camping sessions during the month of July.

The Star-Telegram reporters interviewed parents who said they felt a false sense of security because their children had to wear masks on the bus ride from Fellowship Church to Allaso Ranch. However, according to the campers, they were allowed to remove the masks as soon as they arrived, never to wear them again.

Photos of camp activities confirm the reports of campers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to camp guidelines: “Camp staff will wear face coverings whenever they are in close proximity to others and while handing food.” If camp staff includes volunteer staff, this guideline wasn’t followed. In at least one of the instances documented by a parent, a staff volunteer was sick in a cabin exposing students to the virus. According to campers, staff volunteers did not wear masks. Food service workers did but volunteer staff can’t be seen in photos wearing masks. Understandably, parents have many questions and deserve answers.

No Comment

Despite the possibility that hundreds of campers appear to have been exposed to COVID-19, Fellowship Church and Allaso Ranch have been silent.  Neither organization has responded to my requests for comment or information and they did not respond to the Star-Telegram.

It is also disturbing that the parents quoted in the paper said they feared retribution. These parents are doing what parents should do. They are being protective of their children and warning other parents. I feel pretty sure that Fellowship Church thinks of itself as pro-family. It is now time to show it. Will Fellowship Church be pro-family or pro-Fellowship Church?

Fellowship Church Spreads Gospel and COVID-19 at Allaso Ranch (UPDATED)

Keystone Church in Keller, TX is under fire from parents who want answers about the number of COVID-19 cases among teens returning from a camp experience sponsored by the church. However, Keystone may not be the only church needing to provide answers. I have learned that campers and staff who attended Allaso Ranch this month sponsored by Ed Young’s Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX have also tested positive after attending the church’s Mix Camp 2020.

On 7/20, Amy Smith at her Watchkeep blog posted some social media postings about a possible COVID-19 outbreak due to Fellowship Church camping experiences at Allaso Ranch. A public Facebook posting described a camper and staffer positive with COVID.  Since then, I have had several conversations with multiple parents about their children who have tested positive for COVID-19 since returning from Allaso Ranch. One parent on Twitter pegged the number at ten positives, while others have no way to estimate since the church or camp has not offered that information. Emails to both the church and Allaso Ranch have not been answered.

One staffer developed symptoms and was sent home and is now quite ill. Another child tested positive but has more mild symptoms. Parents I spoke with said that they have heard from parents that other children have also tested positive. A Fellowship Church pastor called at least one of the parents and left a voice mail saying that a staff member at the camp tested positive during the camp week.

The pastor also said in his voicemail,

We followed every single procedure, actually gone above and beyond that, and anybody who may have exhibited any symptoms of anything, headache, cough, sneezing,whether it be a temperature, anything, we were on top of it and in fact if it was a trainer we just sent them home, and that actually took place in your [child’s] room and we sent [them] home, [they] were having some mild symptoms, we don’t know if their COVID positive, but we just took precautionary measures and sent them home, and there’s a new leader in that group. So we just wanted to let you know that, and if there is any COVID positivity, we will let you know that immediately.

While it was good that the pastor called this family, is it true that the camp followed every procedure? A review of photos of students at camp indicates that masks were not worn and social distancing was not followed. Here is a tweet from Fellowship Church as an illustration.

I also reviewed several photos from camp during July and campers are bunched together without masks throughout the week. According to the camp guidelines, masks are not required for campers. However, the guidelines specify that “Camp staff will wear face coverings whenever they are in close proximity to others and while handing food.” In the tweet photos and any other camp photos I have seen, volunteer staff are not wearing masks when they are near campers. If volunteer staff are considered staff, then it is understandable that parents would be concerned that guidelines may not have been followed.

Allaso Ranch has not posted (or has removed) pictures of camp from 2020. However, there are many photos of camp from past years. If you want to see what camp looks like at Allaso Ranch in 2020, go look at what it looked like in 2019.

As with the Keystone situation, there are hundreds of teens back in the community who may be spreading the virus without knowing it. Furthermore, the camp remains open to continue acting as a super spreader. Surely, Fellowship Church can find a way to spread the Gospel without spreading the virus.

UPDATE: Just after I posted this, another parent posted word on Facebook that her daughter attended Allaso Ranch and tested positive for COVID-19. Although this parent signed a waiver, she was under the impression that the camp was going to require mitigation efforts. However, she also confirms she saw no evidence that any efforts were conducted.

Here are some additional photos of campers at Allaso Ranch. Also, Fellowship Church has blocked Amy Smith on Twitter. Scroll down to the bottom tweet to see the photos. You will need to click that tweet.

Allaso Ranch – July 13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have more information about COVID-19 cases at Allaso Ranch, contact me here.

Local Man Survives Shopping Trip While Wearing Mask

Local Man Survives Shopping Trip While Wearing Mask

GROVE CITY, PA – A local man went shopping for groceries late Wednesday night while wearing a cloth face covering in response to COVID-19 regulations. With his mask on, Warren Throckmorton, a professor at Grove City College, was able to secure numerous items during the 35 minute excursion without injuring his health.

“I know it might surprise some people, but I didn’t lose consciousness even once. My heart rate went up a little in the hot sauce section, but I think that was because of the great selection,” Throckmorton said.

Many shoppers in the local County Market were not wearing masks observed Throckmorton.

“From what Facebook says, I bet they were afraid they would pass out.”

Throckmorton said he was even able to engage in one of his favorite shopping activities with his mask on: Grooving to the background music.

“The store plays some really good tunes. I like to groove while I shop.”

When asked if he planned to try wearing the mask again for other activities, Throckmorton said, “Now that I know I won’t die from wearing a mask, the sky’s the limit.”

VIDEO EXTRA

Throckmorton demonstrates for the skeptical reader just how he was able to shop while wearing his mask without having a major health catastrophe.

The entire trip was uneventful except for the many people who were not wearing masks. We wear masks to protect others in the event we have COVID-19 and don’t know it. If everybody wears a mask, the spread can be slowed.

V.P. Pence’s Visit to First Baptist Church in Dallas: How Not to Do Church During a Pandemic

Buzzfeed News is reporting this morning what I wanted to report last week but couldn’t verify: Prior to V.P. Mike Pence’s visit to First Baptist Church in Dallas on Sunday, there was an outbreak of COVID-19 among the church’s orchestra and choir. I had heard this from two twitter accounts but could not get primary source verification, so I didn’t run with it.

Buzzfeed reporters were able to get that confirmation and went with the story today. The video of the event shows that the choir was singing and the orchestra was playing without masks. The congregation was close together and the only real precautions were taken by Pence. You don’t need to watch the whole video to see what I mean:

 

Texas is experiencing a scary surge in cases and V. P. Pence should have shown leadership by canceling his appearance and urging Robert Jeffress to hold an online event. Just last week, in neighboring Arkansas, fellow evangelical Governor Asa Hutchinson told the public that the churches who are not experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks are the ones using masks and social distancing. He identified by name nine churches on a naughty list of churches which had not been following guidelines and thus experiencing more cases of COVID-19.

Jeffress’ church was a clinic in how not to do things. Singing and playing wind instruments are effective ways of spreading a virus. The congregation was not spaced properly and it appears not all were wearing masks. Given that some of the orchestra members have been infected (although none of those members were there), it is possible that some of the orchestra members playing that Sunday had been exposed in prior rehearsals.

While it appears that most church leaders are trying to take COVID-19 seriously, I don’t see how it helps to have so-called leaders disregard best practices. I have been tracking church outbreaks for just over a month and it is starting to get a little hard to keep up with. I count 48 churches as of this writing. As the pandemic enlarges in the U.S., it may be difficult to keep a complate count.

In any case, having church as normal can be a super spreading event and leaders need to heed best practices while still caring for their flocks.

Trump’s Visit to Arizona: COVID Ionization and Irresponsibility

Here we are in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic and Donald Trump is going to have another indoor rally, this time in a church. If you get sick, you can’t blame anybody but yourself. In fact, as with the rally in Tulsa, you have to sign a waiver to get in.

The rally is being held in The Dream Center (a mega church), and is put on by Turning Point USA’s Students for Trump. I wonder if parents have to sign for the minors who attend.

In any case, no one is responsible. Another way of saying it is that many people are irresponsible.

Dream City Church must not be too confident that their new ionization technology to kill all the COVID-19 in the place. Hat tip to the Friendly Atheist for this item. Although the church has since taken down the video, this Twitter user has it:

Earlier today, I wrote the company, CleanAirEXP, and asked for the research backing. I haven’t heard anything yet. The company has tried the technology on a surrogate virus, not COVID-19. Other companies have studied this approach and some use it on airplanes. Limited work has been done on COVID-19 in small spaces. According to a presentation posted just today on YouTube, small spaces can be neutralized, but they did not say if a large church space has been tested with people singing and yelling. The salesman for the technology suggested sneezing or coughing next to a person would allow COVID-19 to spread to people in close proximity.

Whatever the capability in this church, none of the people hosting or running the event want to be responsible for any sickness and death that come from it. I hope it obvious that no one should attend this event, even if you support Trump.

Eric Metaxas Uncritically Features Anti-Vaccine Proponent

Eric Metaxas has been in the hot seat lately due to his race baiting tweet in response to Joe Biden (see this post for that story). However, there is something else that in times past would relegate Metaxas to the fringe.

On his radio show last week, he gave 36 minutes to Kent Heckenlively, the co-author with Judy Mikovits, of the conspiratorial book Plague of Corruption. Mikovits is the star of the documentary “Plandemic” that made the rounds in early May. Metaxas treated Heckenlively as a serious guest with truth to reveal. In the process, he gave the anti-vax movement a huge public relations win. Watch:

In this video, Heckenlively claims and Metaxas accepts that aborted fetal tissue is in vaccines, and harmful viruses are in vaccines. The fictitious vaccine-autism link is implied along with other wild ideas. Heckenlively is allowed to provide a full recitation of the anti-vax catalog. Metaxas is completely unprepared for these claims and can’t or doesn’t want to offer any skeptical response. For all practical purposes, Eric Metaxas produced a 36 minute commercial for the anti-vax movement.

Recently, the Gospel Coalition and Christianity Today have offered warnings about conspiracy theories in the church. With Eric Metaxas favorably featuring the anti-vax movement, there is evidence they may be too late.

 

David Barton (left), Eric Metaxas (right)