Churches and the Spread of COVID-19

Houses of Worship – 615

Cases – 7,289

Deaths – 99

As of October 27, 2020, I count 615 religious gatherings associated with at least 7,289 cases of COVID-19 and 99 deaths.

(Update – 10/22/20) Because the number of church outbreaks have been increasing since churches are opening up and failing to use masks and social distancing, it has been become too time consuming to report the outbreaks in the format used below. I have tabulated the cases in October  using this chart instead. I hope to continue to keep a tally in this manner and add to the totals above.

Due to inadequate record keeping in many states and secrecy by many churches, I suspect this significantly underestimates the actual numbers. For instance, New Mexico keeps track of location of exposure but doesn’t report outbreaks by source location. Other states, like Ohio, vaguely refer to church outbreaks but decline to name locations or update numbers of cases. In situations where an outbreak is mentioned but the number is not given, I count an outbreak as 2 cases since that is a common and conservative means of defining the term in many states. While these numbers may seem low, most of these outbreaks have occurred after churches have opened back up.

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Regularly updated. Scroll down for section on churches being monitored due to contact tracing. This section is useful for people who want to know if they have attended a church where an infected person has attended. 

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On May 22, Donald Trump has threatened to “override” governors who have limited church gatherings. He can’t do that legally and he shouldn’t try. Furthermore, governors should resist the calls of some church leaders to remove restrictions. Going to church is not like shopping or even eating out. With this post, I plan to keep a running list of situations where churches have met together and spread the virus in an outbreak of cases or a church has closed because of a positive case due to a church service.

Some are widely known. In South Korea, much of the spread was due to a new religious movement where a single infected person spread the virus to many people in church. Several days ago, I wrote about the differences between church going and shopping and concluded that many things we do in church make it easy for the virus to spread.

Alabama

Eight members of the Ider Church of God in Ider, AL tested positive for COVID-9. The pastor announced that they all are in quarantine.

First Baptist Church of Tillman’s Corner has shut down after being re-opened for a short time. Several staff members and pastors came down with the virus after reopening. One report said 20 members have been infected. The pastor said the church followed social distancing guidelines.

In Trussville, the First United Methodist Church has closed in person services due to the pastor and four members of his family contracting COVID-19.

Forty cases are associated with a Warrior Creek Missionary Baptist Church revival meeting in Strawberry, AL.

First Baptist Church of Gulf Shores has been associated with an outbreak of 30 cases but has continued to meet in person.

Oakland Church of Christ in Athens has a “large majority” of members are positive for COVID-9. It is not clear how many people attend.

Sharon Heights Baptist Church has several cases associated with the church. Even so, the church continues to meet.

A family member informed me that a death has resulted in mid-September from a COVID infection contracted from a revival meeting at a Church of Christ in Cleburne County.

Arizona

Gary Marquez, senior pastor at North Swan Baptist Church in Tucson died of COVID-19 July 5th. Others in the congregation have tested positive as well.

The pastor and family of Expedition Church in Payson is diagnosed with COVID-19.

Arizona reports one religious facility as a site of an outbreak. It is not known if either of the above cases are the facility counted by the state.

Arkansas

A Scottsville Word of Life Assembly revival is at the center of several cases according to the AR Department of Health.

The CDC reported this past week that an Arkansas church was involved in the spread of COVID-19 in March. Here is the CDC description:

Among 92 attendees at a rural Arkansas church during March 6–11, 35 (38%) developed laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, and three persons died. Highest attack rates were in persons aged 19–64 years (59%) and ≥65 years (50%). An additional 26 cases linked to the church occurred in the community, including one death.

The Christian Post also reported on this church.

Services held in a church in North Little Rock in June are associated with 14 cases of COVID-19. The church is First Pentecostal Church and testing is being done to determine if more cases associated with services exist.

The AR Department of Health issued a report card of sorts on churches where COVID-19 infected people have attended. Most churches had one or two people attend with COVID and nothing more came from it because they followed the social distancing and masking guidelines. However, in 9 churches, there are outbreaks associated with not following the guidelines according to Director of the Department of Health Matt. Watch his explanation. Following that, I will list the churches with two of more cases (the red dots).

Churches which have more than two cases associated with attendance at church services (red dots) are:

Central Baptist Church- Central Campus, Jonesboro
St Raphael Catholic Church, Springdale
New Beginnings, De Queen
New Beginnings Church, Springdale
Lifeline Ministry Church of God in Christ, Nashville
Slaty Crossing Free Will Baptist Church, Dardanelle
First Pentecostal Church, North Little Rock (this church is reported above)
Big T Apostolic Church, Corning

Below is an image depicting where the cases of COVID-19 have shown up in AR churches. The red dots are listed above and according to Governor Hutchinson were not following the recommendations for social distancing and use of masks.

At 6:18 in the video briefing above, Gov. Hutchinson explains that 98% of churches are doing a good job but those who are not have helped contribute to cases. He then put this image before the audience.

California

Cases of COVID-19 have been related to Mother’s Day services in two CA churches. In one church, at least nine cases are tied to the church service and in the other, two cases are known to relate to attendance at the church.

In April, a Russian language evangelical church near Sacramento was the center of an outbreak. Seventy cases of COVID-19 were traced back to the church. Small group gatherings may have contributed to the spread of the virus.

A Chula Vista church is being investigated due to an outbreak there. The pastor and church defied mitigation measures, but then three members tested positive for the virus as of June 9.

Two Catholic churches in Dixon, CA have closed because a priest and unknown number of members have contracted the virus. In at least one case, masking guidelines were not followed.

An unnamed church in Redding is associated with 10 cases according the health department.

CA Dept of Health reported 10 houses of worship associated with 48 cases in the state to me in an email.

Colorado

Andrew Wommack Ministries: Summer Family Bible Conference has experienced an outbreak. Counting staff and attendees, 41 cases are associated with this religious gathering.

Calvary Worship Cenrer in El Paso is associated with 7 cases.

Kingdom Youth Conference in El Paso had 8 cases associated.

Two churches in Garfield County are associated with a total of 22 cases. A report identified them as Iglesia de Dios Pentacostal and Iglesia Misionera Pentecostes.

Another church in Garfield County, Iglesia Misionera Pentecostes Casa del Pan de Vida, has 4 cases.

The Springs Journey and The Height in Colorado Springs are associated with an outbreak of 10.

As of 8/11, the Rock Family Church in El Paso has two cases.

Faith Fountain Fellowship in El Paso has 11 cases involving both staff and congregants.

Focus on the Family’s Bookstore is the site of 4 cases and was added to the 8/26 list of CO outbreaks.

Downtown Vineyard Church in Mesa County is the site of 5 cases.

Faith Tabernacle in Greeley has 10 cases associated with an outbreak.

Our Lady of Guadelupe in El Paso has 2 staff members who are sick with COVID.

Fellowship Church in Mesa has 3 cases.

Delaware

Three cases stem from a three-day conference at Destiny Christian Church in Dover.

Florida

In Hialeah, Iglesia Bautista Northside has experienced an outbreak of four cases with others being tested.

Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater reports six cases among staff with two in the hospital. The church is moving to online services.

Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church in San Marco discovered that 21 members of the church had COVID-19 back in March.

Three unnamed churches in Manatee County have 21 cases associated with them.

Georgia

Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle opened their church to in person services in April only to close again in early May after just two weeks of services due to reported infections among congregants. The infections occurred despite significant social distancing precautions and low attendance at the services.

In Cartersville, GA as many as 15 cases of COVID-19 were connected to an infected person who attended the Church at Liberty Square in early March. The church then moved to online services. Dr. Melissa Dillman told The Cancer Letter that most deaths from COVID-19 in Floyd County, GA came from that church service.

Air Line Baptist Church in Gainesville has been forced to go back to online services due to an outbreak. It is not clear how many members are infected.

Savannah Holy Church of God is associated with 9 cases. The Savannah church did not reveal the outbreak in June when it occurred. Two members died.

A church in Chatham County is associated with three deaths from COVID-19, one a 7-year old boy.

First Baptist Church in Zebulon reports 14 cases.

Killian Hill Baptist Church in Lilburn had 30 cases in July and August, including the pastor and a family member.

From August 6-12. GA reported 8 church related outbreaks. There has been a total of 49 church/temple related outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic with 517 cases, 91 hospitalizations, and 15 deaths according to an email from the Dept of Public Health.

The GA Dept of Health updated these figures on 9/11/2020. At that time, there were a total of 71 church/temple related outbreaks, 638 cases of COVID associated with 103 hospitalizations and 18 deaths.

As of 10/21/20, the GA Dept of Health updated these figures with 94 church/place of worship outbreak investigations involving 748 COVID cases, 110 hospitalizations, and 19 deaths.

Hawaii

An unnamed church on Maui was associated with a cluster of cases in April. No details were given by health officials.

Idaho

A pastor is in ICU, his wife is ill and five members of the church staff are infected with COVID-19 after the church went back to in person services in Coeur d’Alene.  The church resisted masking and social distancing and apparently will continue to do so.

House of the Lord Church in Oldtown has 7 cases associated with it as of 9/30.

Illinois

A church near Chicago is associated with 10 confirmed cases and another 33 congregants with COVID-like symptoms after a church service in March. The stay at home orders had not been imposed at the time.

The Cathedral of Worship in Quincy is associated with “several positive cases.” Services will not be held this weekend (7/5) at the church.

A small outbreak of 3 cases was reported at Cornerstone Ministries in Litchfield. The exposure took place between June 21 to June 28. As of July 8, that outbreak grew to 25 cases.

Several positive cases have been traced to an unnamed church in Mt Vernon, Jefferson County, IL.

A Jackson County church is responsible for about 25% of the county’s 260 cases.

The Prayer Center Of Orland Park (mosque) is associated with 6 cases and has been closed.

Gospel Assembly Church in Du Quoin reports “several cases” among members and has suspended services.

Mary, Seat of Wisdom Catholic Church in Park Ridge learned last week (8/25) that three staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Masses have been cancelled for now.

Indiana

New Castle church Turning Point Life Center started services on Mother’s Day with social distancing and simultaneous online services. In June, “several families” reported positive COVID diagnoses. In person services were suspended.

A church camp in Indiana is associated with 40 cases among staff. The camp only had 50 staff.

Iowa

Associated with the virus in Harvest Baptist Church, Fort Dodge are 2 members of the church.

As of 8/27, LifeChurchX in Waterloo is the scene of an outbreak in two locations. At least the pastor and his wife and an undisclosed number of members are infected.

Kansas

From March 16 to March 22, a Church of God denomination conference was held in Kansas City, KS. As of a April 20 news report, there were 7 deaths and 51 COVID-19 cases associated with attendance at that conference.

The Kansas Department of Health reported 9 cases relating to an out of state church camp.

A Junction City church, Faith Tabernacle, is associated with an outbreak of 22 cases.

The KS Dept of Health “identified clusters associated with religious gatherings at Faith Chapel Assembly of God in Louisburg (21), Faith Tabernacle Apostolic Church in Junction City (7), Hannah’s House in Independence (9) and Plevna Church in Plevna (14).”

Kansas now has a total number of clusters at religious gatherings with associated deaths and cases. There have been 25 clusters associated with 281 cases, 56 hospitalizations, and 13 deaths.

Kentucky

In March, a Hopkins County revival meeting led to infections that spread throughout the state. At least 30 cases and three deaths have been linked to the meeting.

A Nicholasville, KY church is the scene of an outbreak. The church’s pastor was a vocal opponent of stay at home measures but now has postponed services until June 21.

Officials want to hear from people who attended Solid Rock Church in Burning Springs between May 28 and June 3. Several cases are associated with attendance at that church.

The Trinity Holiness Tabernacle Church has been linked to a spike of cases in Perry Co., KY. The county shows 28 cases and surrounding counties are in the single digits. State health authorities have traced an undisclosed number of cases to the church.

An outbreak was reported on June 15 at Big Hill Holiness Church in Jackson Co. Sixteen cases have been associated with this outbreak.

In Jackson Co., a small outbreak of six cases has been located in the Annville Holiness Church.

From July 19 to July 30, attendance at the Pilgrim Holiness Church in Winchester could have exposed someone to COVID-19. Five cases are associated with that location and a camp in Ohio associated with the church.

Calvary Church of God in Johnson County is associated with 5 cases in two counties.

Saxon Independent Baptist Church in Whitley County is associated with 9 cases.

A church in Hardin County is the source of an outbreak of 40 cases.

Church on the Rock in Berea hosted meetings where 200 people were exposed to the virus. At least 20 have tested positive. A later report pegs the positive number as in the “dozens.”

Tip Top Church in Magoffin County reports 2 cases, one an infant.

Lighthouse Baptist Church in Knott has 50 cases associated with it.

Maine

Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford has 10 cases associated with services between 8/9-23/20. Three additional cases have surfaced.

Massachusetts

An outbreak has been reported at an unnamed church in MA.

Outbreaks at two churches in New Bedford are reported in this article. A current one involves 9 cases at Iglesia Pentecostal Levantate y Anda and another was in June at La Primer Iglesia de Dois Church. Add 40 more cases to the storefront church in New Bedford.

An unnamed church near Haverhill is associated with 10 cases.

An unnamed church on Nantucket is associated with about 19 cases.

Michigan

A pentecostal church in East Lansing is the source of 12 cases of COVID-19 after exposure in a July 1 service.

A church camp near Gladwin reported several cases of COVID-19 which forced the closure of the camp.

A church in Traverse City is associated with 7 cases which showed up in nearby Wexford County.

Minnesota

Two small Catholic churches, one in Maple Lake and the other in Annandale, share clergy who have tested positive for COVID-19. Despite following guidelines, volunteers and others have tested positive and are displaying symptoms of the virus. All three of the clergy who serve both churches are positive or symptomatic.

An unnamed Martin Co. church is associated with 50 cases due to a church service tied to a funeral and then to other services not associated with the funeral.

Mississippi

Mt. Carmel Church of God had an outbreak of 25 cases and two deaths.

A teacher contracted the virus at an unnamed church and later died from the disease.

Missouri

In Purdy, MO, a church closed due to two members being infected with COVID-19.  Arnhart Baptist Church will be closed on July 5 and July 12.

Open Arms Baptist Church hosted a revival meeting from June 28-July 2. Six cases have been associated with that meeting in Macon, MO. As of July  9, the number of cases has increased to 21.

Apostolic Promise Church in Cape Girardeau is closed due to three church leaders positive for COVID-19.

Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City reports three cases among youth in the church. A focus is a youth meeting which took place July 1.

A Christian camp in MO — Kanakuk Camp — has reported 82 cases of COVID-19.

According to a tweet from the Jackson County, MO Health Department: “There are currently 30 confirmed cases from an exposure at Old Paths Baptist Church between July 19 – July 24.” The church is in Independence, MO.

A 23 year old female was infected a Philadelphia, MO church camp.

In the Springfield-Greene County area, 38 cases have been associated with a church. This represents 2.4% of all cases since July 1.

In Stone County, 8 individuals who attended the Soul Harvest Revival at New Life Fellowship Church have tested positive for Covid-19.

Mammoth Assembly of God Church in Gainesville is associated with around 10 cases.

In Chillicothe, Turning Point Church has 20 members who have tested positive and are associated with attendance at the church.

Navajo Nation

The Navajo reservation takes in parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. After a March service at Chilchinbeto Church of the Nazarene, 29 people came down with COVID-19; at least 5 have died.

Nevada

There is a report of a Reno County church with 15 cases. The church was not named.

New Hampshire

Windham Crossing Life Church is associated with 16 cases. Participation at a youth camp may have helped spread the virus.

New Mexico

In the two week period ending July 28, 5.2% of exposures to COVID-19 were in houses of worship. This is the only area where exposures increased during that period.

New York

On July 29, Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Buffalo has an outbreak of 10 cases associated with it. That has been updated to 14 on 8/6/20. By 8/12, the number has grown to 38.

Five cases are associated with the August 23 service at Slavic Pentecostal Church in Spencerport.

Four or five cases of Cattaraugus County residents are associated with a PA church camp visited in late August.

Three cases are associated with Holy Innocents Catholic Church – Pleasantville, NY. The congregation would have been exposed at services between 8/23-30/20.

Lighthouse Baptist Church in Horseheads has an outbreak of 90 cases. Two deaths has resulted.

Emmanuel Baptist Bible Church in Martville is associated with 19 cases.

North Carolina

As of October 21, NC will report clusters by location. Since April, religious gatherings have accounted for 76 clusters, 1,040 cases and 13 deaths.

Today, according to WLOS, Macon County Public Health reported seven members of Evangelical Ebenezer Church in Franklin, NC have tested positive for COVID-19. Health officials have identified this as a “cluster” of cases and identified the source as the church.

In Asheboro, a cluster has been identified at Crossroad Baptist Church. Ten cases have been associated with the services there between July 5-7.

Faith Community Church in Asheboro is associated with 5 cases. Exposure would have taken place between July 5-19.

In Bennet, Beulah Baptist Church has recorded 30 cases. These may be associated with a youth outing. Exposure would have been likely between July 8 and July 30.

This report comes from a Chattanooga, TN paper:

The Hamilton County Health Department announced exposure to positive cases of COVID 19 with participants that attended the Windy Gap Young Life Camp, 120 Coles Cove Road, Weaverville, N.C. between July 24 and July 31.

Cashiers Church of God, a Jackson County church is associated with a cluster of 8 cases. The exposure was between 7/12-14/20.

A Shelby church is associated with 90 cases and 1 death as of August 13.

Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters, a church camp in Cherokee County, is associated with an outbreak of 19 cases involving both youth and adults.

In Robeson County, outbreaks in five churches are associated with 100 cases and one death.

Ohio

There are few details here but Ohio’s governor Mike Dewine identified a traveling minister as the source of an outbreak in several churches in Southwest Ohio. A later update associated 91 cases with this outbreak and Tuscarawas County.

Gates of Praise Church in Fairborn, OH (near Dayton) has been identified as being associated with an outbreak. At least 14 cases are associated with the church including one woman who is fighting for her life.

On July 10, Huron CO. health officials reported  12 COVID-19 cases  were associated with outbreaks at two churches, Collins United Methodist Church  in Collins, and West Hartland United Methodist, Norwalk.

From July 19 to July 30, attendance at the Pilgrim Holiness Church and church camp in Winchester, could have exposed someone to COVID-19. Five cases are associated with those locations.

Christian Life Center in Heath is the site of an outbreak of 32 confirmed cases.  Another church in St. Louisville in Licking County has a small outbreak.

Brown County has one small church outbreak. Ohio does not provide specific information on the church or cases.

An unnamed church in New Lexington has a 4 case outbreak.

Oregon

Lighthouse Pentecostal Church in Eastern Oregon is associated with an outbreak of cases in Union County. As of June 19, over 230  members of the congregation have tested positive. This represents over two-thirds of the congregation. This church took direct guidance from Trump’s guidance to open in person church services. The outbreak followed renewed services.

Abundant Life Pentecostal Church in McMinnville has been associated with an outbreak of unknown quantity.

A South Coast church has 12 cases associated with it.

An unnamed church service is associated with “more than a couple cases” in Columbia Co.

Pennsylvania

City Reach Philly Church has at least 12 cases associated with it in Philadelphia.

South Carolina

World Overcomers Ministries in North Charleston has continued having services with COVID-19 positive members. The news report did not give a number of infected people.

First Baptist Church in Columbia canceled in person worship after 9 members became ill with COVID.

South Dakota

As of August 3, 96 campers and staff at Camp Judson outside Keystone have tested positive for COVID-19.

Tennessee

Westmore Church of God in Cleveland has closed due to an outbreak there. The exact number of cases associated isn’t known but according to the church, there are at least 12 cases. The church did not practice social distancing, allowed singing, and didn’t require masks. A later account said dozens were sick and three died.

Covenant Baptist Church in Cleveland has closed services due to an outbreak of 20 cases there. The pastor is among those who have been infected.

Texas

A Calvary Chapel in San Antonio is associated with dozens of cases including the pastor and his wife.  Church people may have spread the virus through lack of social distancing due to hugging when the church met for services.

A Catholic church closed services after several members came down with COVID-19. The transmission is unclear but 5 members of an order associated with the church tested positive.

Although not officially an outbreak yet, a Catholic church in Houston was closed because a priest and church staff member tested positive for COVID-19.

A Killeen church has reported 10 cases tied to a singer in a service even though masks were worn and social distancing was practiced. Now the church is having services online.

A church camp in Tarrant county is associated with 19 cases. More investigation is ongoing. Keystone Church in Keller sponsored the camping activity.

First Baptist Church of Dallas has an outbreak in their choir and orchestra. This has been kept secret by the church but was reported by Buzzfeed News. This situation is especially noteworthy since the pastor of the church is Robert Jeffress, a key supporter of Donald Trump. It also was occuring the same weekend V.P. Mike Pence visited the church.

Despite the fact that the leadership was aware of the outbreak, the orchestra and choir performed during the Pence visit without masks and in close proximity. Watch:

Another megachurch, Fellowship Church pastored by Ed Young, appears to have an outbreak relating to a church camp and lack of mitigation measures. As reported by Amy Smith at her Watchkeep blog, several parents of youth at the church are reporting that several participants at a recent church camp have tested positive for COVID-19. At a more recent camp session sponsored by Fellowship Church, at least one staff child and a camper have been infected as indicated by this Facebook posting.

I have a specific post on this situation here.

A Copperas Cove church sponsored a special meeting and spread the infection due to the fact that the guest speaker was positive. The pastor of the church counted 20 likely to have COVID-19.

Five cases have been linked to an August 14-16  youth event at Heartland Church Unmasked Camp in Brownwood, TX. An additional case was added on 8/19. This case caused the cancelation of a football scrimage.

Two clusters were reported 8/26 in McLennan County, TX. No other details were given.

Virginia

A minister who defied mitigation efforts died from the virus. Gerald Glenn of Chesterfield VA vowed to continue preaching but succumbed to the virus back in April. Several of his family members also contracted the virus.

An outbreak at Kidane Mehret Church in Alexandria one of six outbreaks in the city during the pandemic. Anyone at the church between August 14-17 should quarantine. It isn’t clear how many cases have come from these outbreaks. In my count I will apply the conservative number of two each until I hear from the VA Dept of Health.

An outbreak was confirmed on 8/27 at Greater New Bethel Holiness Church in Martinsville with 59 cases, 15 hospitalizations, and the death of the pastor.

In Castleton, Massanova Pentecostal Church experienced a significant outbreak in June. Since Virginia doesn’t report church outbreaks separated from other congregate settings, the Rappahannock News obstained internal VA Dept of Health documents via a FOIA request. It appears that 32 cases and 2 deaths resulted.

In the Mount Rogers Health District an unnamed church is associated with 40 cases.

In Madison Heights, two churches have outbreaks, one with 4 cases and the other with two.

West Virginia

The first COVID-19 death in WV was a member of a Baptist church in Everettville. Due to lack of resources and tracing, it is unclear how many people became infected, but at least five did after attending a service of between 90 and 120 people back in March.

Greystone Baptist Church in Ronceverte (Greenbriar Co.) is now linked to 41 cases with many more people being tested. Two other unnamed churches have also reported outbreaks relating to meeting together. One of those churches may be this Hampshire Co. church which reported 8 cases.

Governor Justice reported on June 13 that 24 new cases statewide had been associated with church attendance.  In his update, “The Governor added that the primary factor in these outbreaks was that the organizations had not adequately planned or put in place social distancing or infection control guidelines.” Although details were not released on the fifth church, a state of WV press release said five churches in all have experienced outbreaks due to meeting together.

A sixth church in WV has been identified. The First Baptist Church in Wheeling has been associated with 21 positive cases. Because the church did not close when the outbreak was first identified on June 10, the outbreak has grown.

Thirty cases have been associated with an outbreak at North Charleston Apostolic Church in Charleston.

Although he didn’t name the churches, Gov. Jim Justice said on July 17th that outbreaks had been associated with churches in “Boone, Kanawha, Raleigh and Taylor counties.” Assuming one church per county, that would mean there are 10 churches in West Virginia associated with outbreaks as of 7/19.  As of July 29,  Grant, Logan, and Mason counties can be added to that list. A high of 137 cases were associated with church outbreak on July 27. This is since July 17.  As of 8/7/20, Cabell County can be added to this list.

An unnamed church near Petersburg had 28 positive COVID-19 cases following a youth retreat and evening services.

A Mingo County Church had 50 cases in July.

Another Wood County church has a small outbreak of 5 cases reported on 8/15/20.

During his 8/14 press conference, Gov. Justice reported three churches with 42 cases in WV.

During his 8/26 press conference, Gov. Justice reported four churches associated with 29 cases.

Wayne Church of God in Wayne has multiple members ill with COVID.

King’s River Worship Center in St. Albans has “several” members ill with COVID, including the pastor.

On 9/14, Gov. Justice reported “six church-related outbreaks throughout five counties: Fayette, Kanawha, Mingo, Wayne, and Wyoming counties.”

As of 9/23, Legacy Church in Daniels has three cases associated with it.

Sissonville Community Church has closed due to “several” members contracting COVID-19.

In his 9/29 briefing, Gov. Justice named five counties with church outbreaks.

Wisconsin

In Sheboygan County, a Wisconsin pentecostal church has been linked to 23 cases of COVID-19. The person who spread the virus is between 20-30 years of age and had allergy like symptoms.

In Madison, High Point Church reports a few cases but has continued to have church with social distancing.

Wyoming

Three churches are tied to outbreaks in Fremont County. Although investigations are ongoing, as of 8/27, 45 cases are associated with these outbreaks.

Churches Being Monitored

In this section, I am just going to list churches under scrutiny by health officials because someone attended a service and was COVID-19 positive. These churches haven’t experienced an outbreak, but attenders have been exposed due to public meetings (if known, the date of the meeting(s) is provided).

Anchorage Samoan Assembly of God – Anchorage, AK – 7/17/20

The Road@Chapel Hills – Colorado Springs, CO – 7/26/20

Charis Christian Center – Colorado Springs, CO – 7/19/20

Holy Comforter St. Cyprian Catholic Church – D.C. (Washington) – 7/25/27/20

First Assembly of God – Fort Myers, FL – 6/10/20 (a young girl attended a young event and then died of COVID-19 two weeks later)

Christ Covenant Church – Atlanta, GA – 8/2/20

Holy Family Catholic Church – Decatur, IL – 7/30-8/2/20

Gospel Assembly Church – Du Quoin, IL – 7/29-8/12/20

Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church – Waterloo, IL – 7/9/20

Lake Ridge Christian Church – Paris, IL – 7/5/20

Vertical Church – Fort Branch, IN – 8/9/20

Abundant Grace House of Prayer – Sullivan County, IN – 7/26; 8/2/20

Carlisle Christian Church – Sullivan County, IN – 8/2-8/20

Lee County Church of Christ – Lee County, KY – 8/7-21/20

Hazel Green Church of God – Wolfe County, KY – 8/7-21/20

Full Gospel Church of Jesus Christ – Leslie County, KY – 7/7-21/20

Keith Memorial Tabernacle Church – Magoffin, KY – 8/3/20

Goose Creek Church of Christ – Neon, KY – 9/20,23/20

Immanuel Baptist Church – Corunna, MI – 7/4/20

Resurrection of the Lord Parish – Standish, MI – 6/28/20

Calvary Baptist Church – West Branch, MI – 6/28/20

St. Matthew Lutheran Church – Holt, MI – 7/5/20

Freedom Christian Center – Aurora, MO – 7/5-7/20

Sentinel Missionary Baptist Church – Bolivar, MO – 7/5/20

New Beginnings Fellowship – Branson, MO – 6/21/20

Santuary of Hope Church – Branson, MO – 7/5/20

Bethel Assembly of God – Cape Girardeau, MO – 7/5/20

First Christian Church – Cassville, MO – 7/10/20

Salem Baptist Church – Center, MO – 6/29/20

Union Hill Church – Crawford County, MO – 8/30/20

God’s Country Cowboy Church – Fredericktown, MO – 8/9/20

Pleasant Green Baptist Church – Madison, MO – 7/26/20

Courageous Life Church – Independence, MO – 7/26/20

Grace Pointe Free Will Baptist Church – Marion Co., MO – 6/21/20

St. Pius X Church – Moberly, MO – 8/3/20

The Pentecostal Church – Moberly, MO – 8/3/20

North Park Baptist Church – Moberly, MO – 9/23/20

Monett Church of the Nazarine – Monett, MO – 6/28/20

First Assembly of God – Jefferson City, MO – 6/14, 21, 28/20

The Bridge Church – Nixa, MO – 7/5/20

Pomona Christian Church – Pomona, MO – 7/26/20

First Baptist Church – Stanton, MO – 8/23/20

St. Mary of Perpetual Help Catholic Church – Villa Ridge, MO

St. James Catholic Church – Carawissa, MO

Agape Baptist Church – Stockton, MO – 7/5/20

James River Church – Ozark, MO – 7/5/20

Calvary Chapel New Harvest – Los Lunas, NM – 6/25/20

Holy Family Catholic Church – Las Vegas, NV – 7/5/20

Crystal Valley Mennonite Church – Dundee, NY – 8/16/20 

Gracepoint Gospel Fellowship Church -New City, NY – 9/23/20

Bethel Baptist Church – Prospect, NY – 9/23/20

St. Marks Catholic Church – Utica, NY – 8/2-9/20

First Ukrainian Pentecostal Church – Syracuse, NY – 8/2/20

St. Patrick’s Church – Syracuse, NY – 8/8/20

Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Warners, NY – 8/9/20

Herald of Joy Evangelical Church – Camillus, NY – 8/9/20

St. Maron Catholic Church – Cleveland, OH – 8/9/20

Dennison Four Square Church – Dennison, OH – 7/5&12/20

Temple Tots Day Care (in Temple Baptist) – Portsmouth, OH – 7/2/20

St. Albert the Great Catholic Church – Baldwin, PA – 7/5-12/20

Faith Family Church – Sioux Falls, SD – 9/9-11/20

South Cleveland Church of God – Cleveland, TN – 6/22/20

One City Church – Beaumont, TX – 7/12-26/20

First Baptist Church -Farmersville, TX – 7/12/20

Buena Vista Presbyterian Church – Buena Vista, VA – 6/21/20

Our Saviors Catholic Church – Mosinee, WI – 8/30/20

Multiple locations in Arkansas – 6/25/20 – The AR Dept of Health released a list of 44 churches visited by someone who was COVID-19 positive. I did not list this above because the DOH is not sure if the infection came from the church or if there is an outbreak in the church. However, at least 8 of the churches have had more than two cases in their services at some time during the pandemic. According to the DOH:

The information provided in this report represents exposure locations for the full duration of the COVID19 pandemic until 6/25/2020. The information presented was reported to the Arkansas Department of Health during case surveillance and contact tracing efforts as reported by a known COVID-19 case. The church locations are places patients reported visiting during their infectious period, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate they became infected there. As more cases are contacted, the information found in this report will change.

France

This was one of the earliest outbreaks related to a church service. About 2500 people took part in a Lenten service which led to 10 cases very quickly after the March service. From there, cases multiplied throughout France.

Germany

More than forty people tested positive (this report says 100 cases) after attending a Baptist church service in Frankfurt, Germany. According to news reports, the church adhered to social distancing guidelines.

Another church, this time in Bremerhaven, is the site of another outbreak. Over 100 people have been infected with one death associated with a service in early June.

South Korea

The CDC reports eight churches in South Korea where there are clusters of infections (in parentheses): Jusarang Church in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi (9),  Elim Church in Gumi City, Gyeongbuk (8). Dong-an Church-PC Cafe in Seoul (20), Manmin Central Church in Seoul (41), Onchun Church in Busan (39),Grace River Church in Seongnam (72), Bucheon Saeng MyeongSu Church in Gyeonggi (48), and Geochang Church in Gyeong-nam (10),

Summary

There are many reasons why a church service is a good environment for spreading the virus (see this post for a discussion). Despite social distancing, some church gatherings have been responsible for the spread of the virus. During the Spanish Flu pandemic churches closed down until it was safe to meet again. We should be patient and follow their example.

I urge readers to leave other cases of church spread in the comments and I will add more as I find them.

More information on churches and COVID:

A new dilemma for Trump’s team: Preventing super-spreader churches – Politico (6/29/20)

Churches were eager to reopen. Now they are confronting Coronavirus cases. New York Times (7/8/20)

Churches face outbreaks, many challenges amid COVID-19 pandemic
Chicago Tribune (7/12/20)

 

Rusty Reno Apologizes for His Tweets About Masks

Today, on First Things, Rusty Reno apologized for his “foolish and ill-considered remarks about masks and mask wearing.” It is short, so I reproduce it here.

I regret my foolish and ill-considered remarks about masks and mask wearing on Twitter on Tuesday, May 12. Masks are clearly indicated in many situations. I used over-heated rhetoric and false analogies. It was wrong for me to impugn the intentions and motives of others, for which I apologize.

I wrote about his tweets (now deleted along with his entire account) last week. Given the position First Things has in the world of religion, it would be good to hear what tipped the scale in the other direction.

This seems like a good start. Reno also distorted history in his crusade against social distancing measures and it would be a good thing to see corrections made there as well.

Upheaval at First Things

I’ve been talking about it for awhile. I’m just one of many. First Things, the magazine that calls itself “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life,” is struggling. For me, it started with a broadside against the very reasonable David French by Sohrab Ahmari about a year ago. And then of late, the editor of First Things, R.R. Reno, has used the magazine to carry on a war against social distancing and most recently face masks. Yesterday, the crescendo was this series of tweets, now deleted from Twitter.

Reno today deleted his account from Twitter and did not file a daily Coronavirus diary on First Things as he has done most days during the pandemic.

By the way, in fact soldiers did wear masks.  Or at least these recruits did during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

Others have noticed. Evangelical historian Thomas Kidd tweeted earlier today.

As I read editor Reno, he seems preoccupied with fear. He almost seems afraid to be afraid. In his tweets and articles, fear is the worst thing. Wearing a mask is a sign of cowardice to him. While I understand that fear is a negative emotion, some things should be feared. Fear is a natural part of our ability to adapt and respond to the demands of life. Fear can focus us on what is important.

In his war on fear, Reno has taken liberties with both history and science. In prior articles, Reno said in past pandemics, American citizens didn’t stop their gatherings, football games, and church services. Not true. In the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, many of the very same measures being taken now were taken then.

In his Coronavirus journal entry on May 12, Reno wrote:

Experts estimate that one-third of the residents of New York City have had the disease—a collective condition that makes it nearly impossible for an outbreak of significant magnitude to sweep through the city again. Yet we’re locked down, with no end in sight.

Actually, experts estimate that it would take 60% of the population to be infected for herd immunity to prevent an outbreak. In fact, we don’t know for certain that immunity occurs in all cases of COVID-19, and we don’t know for sure that the antibody tests are reliable. Even if they are and 30% is a valid number, that still isn’t adequate.

First Things once cared about accuracy. There are still good people writing there (e.g., Carl Trueman), but I do agree with Thomas Kidd’s assessment about the publication as a whole and hope for a reset.

Church is Different Than Shopping

Around the country, pastors and people want to go back to church. Some are suing to overcome prohibitions and some are trying to convince elected leaders to loosen restrictions. Just today, Ed Stetzer posted an article on RNS titled: If Costco can reopen safely, why not Illinois churches, Gov. Pritzker?

In his article, Stetzer proclaims: “If Costco can make it work, so can the churches.”

Maybe they can. However, I want to point out that church is different than shopping at Costco.

Stetzer calls on us to use science in our decision making which is what I want to do. My thoughts are based partly on an excellent blog post by UMass Dartmouth Biology professor Erin Bromage. Bromage teaches courses on immunology and infectious diseases and has a research program in the evolution of the immune system.

My ideas here are also based on my experience as a church attender and a shopper. Having done both for much of my life, I can safely say that full participation in church and going shopping are different activities.

Church activities spread the virus

First, let me pick some relevant material from Bromage’s article. An important principle developed by Bromage is this:

Remember the formula: Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time

To get to this principle, Bromage discusses the ways humans spread a virus. We spread it most efficiently by sneezing and coughing, but we also spread it by speaking and breathing. Sneezing and coughing expels hundreds of millions of viral particles, so it is easy enough to understand why sick people should stay home. They shouldn’t go to church or shop.

But let’s take speaking since that is done in church a lot but not as much in the grocery store, especially these days. Bromage estimates it takes about 5 minutes of face-to-face speaking to transmit enough virus to make an infection possible. Church meeting supporters might complain that we all will be wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart. Well, if you really will, then that will help. However, there is the variable of time in Bromage’s formula.

When people are shopping in Costco and many grocery stores, they are moving around in large open spaces. They go in, do their shopping, and leave. That is not how people do church. They go in, sing (more about that in a minute), talk, and sit and listen to a 30-50 minute sermon, stand around and talk some more and then leave, often in a smaller room. Sitting around for a couple of hours with a super spreader in the room isn’t like shopping in Costco.

Bromage describes several instances of how infections spread in restaurants, work places, sports venues, parties, and choir practice.

For instance, Bromage summarizes a case where a single carrier infected most of a choir in a Washington city even though the community choir members took certain precautions during their practice. The thing many Christians love to do in church that they don’t do in Costco is sing. Bromage describes how singing spreads the virus:

Singing, to a greater degree than talking, aerosolizes respiratory droplets extraordinarily well. Deep-breathing while singing facilitated those respiratory droplets getting deep into the lungs. Two and half hours of exposure ensured that people were exposed to enough virus over a long enough period of time for infection to take place. Over a period of 4 days, 45 of the 60 choir members developed symptoms, 2 died. The youngest infected was 31, but they averaged 67 years old.

Recall Bromage’s formula: infection equals exposure x time.

Bromage describes a restaurant scenario where an infected person at one table led to infections in people sitting at adjacent tables. The airflow in the room apparently carried low levels of virus to the people sitting at the adjacent table. Churches could work around this as we move into summer, but not if they don’t know how church is different than shopping.

Public Health v. Civil Rights

In a crisis, it is easy to get polarized and I have been pleasantly surprised at how well evangelicals have followed good practices in moving to online services. Of late, however, more voices have arisen suggesting that churches have a right to meet and that if people can gather in shops, they should be able to gather in church. As I point out, these are not similar activities.

If one looks at church activities and commercial activities through a civil rights lens only, then one could make a case that there shouldn’t be any discrimination. However, looking at these activities through a public health lens, there are important differences which place a burden on churches (or any group) to demonstrate how they will address the problems inherent in their activities.

If churches are going to meet, then they need to take this information into account. They need to spread people out, consider not singing for long sets (if at all), and having shorter sermons (finally!). Outdoor services might be an option in some locations. Online messages throughout the week should be available. Who said everything must be done on Sunday?

In any case, I hope it is clear that a public health lens isn’t designed to discriminate against religion. Church is different than shopping. Isn’t that a good thing?

 

Liberty Counsel Fights for Right to Panic

Today, Christian legal defense group Liberty Counsel added to the hysteria surrounding stay at home orders by telling supporters that Kansas City, MO authorities have demanded church membership lists. According LC, it is just like the Nazis!

The Kansas City government is now DEMANDING that churches turn over membership lists, along with the names, telephone numbers and physical addresses of anyone who enters a church! This order also applies to all businesses.

The new order states that by recording names and contact information, the health department will be able “to more quickly trace, test, and isolate individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19.” Anyone who does not provide this information should be refused entrance!

The Germans did this very thing to Jews – collecting the names and locations of all known synagogue attendees – in the early days of the Nazi regime.

Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined Nazi-like measures designed to surveil, track and spy upon what was once a FREE American people. Yet that is exactly what Kansas City’s misguided government officials are now demanding.

Here is what the mayor of Kansas City posted on the city website:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas today—in consultation with Kansas City Health Department Director Rex Archer, M.D.—announced Kansas City’s phased reopening plan.

Beginning May 15, all Kansas City businesses will be able to open, subject to a “10/10/10 Rule.”

The 10/10/10 Rule specifies that all non-essential Kansas City businesses must limit the number of customers allowed in their establishment at one time to no more than 10 percent of building occupancy or 10 people (whichever is larger), and record the names, contact information, and approximate entry/exit time of all customers who are on premises and seated for more than 10 minutes. Establishments such as grocery stores, medical and dental offices, pharmacies, and other essential businesses are not subject to the 10/10/10 Rule.

Gyms, museums, bars and in-person restaurant dining will open with additional Health Department guidance on May 15 to best protect workers and patrons.

“More important than moving quickly is moving carefully and responsibly, and the steps we’re taking today allow our businesses to return to productivity while keeping their workers and customers safe,” said Mayor Lucas.

Based on public health guidance, non-essential businesses that are not open to the public will be permitted to open one week from today, subject to social distancing guidance. Religious gatherings – including weddings and funerals – of 10 people inside and 50 people outside can resume on the same date, provided social distancing is maintained and event organizers record the names and contact information of all attendees. In the interest of public health and subject to City Order, any Kansas Citian who does not yet feel safe returning to a non-essential workplace cannot be compelled by their employer to return prior to May 15.

Membership lists are not required. Those in attendance should be recorded in the event there is a sickness and those present need to be contacted. Note that the names and contact information doesn’t have to be turned in to anyone if there is no sickness. The information is for contract tracing if there is an illness.

LC is spreading paranoia and is a part of the problem right now. All public health experts recommend testing and contact tracing as a way to open business and slow the spread of the virus. If church groups can meet with the constraints of social distancing, then if the curve has flattened, there is case that they should be allowed to. However, responsible church leaders should keep track of attenders for the purpose of tracing those people to tell them they may have been exposed if that becomes necessary.

There is precedent for the stay at home orders and limits on public gatherings, including churches (see the image above). In 1918, during the Spanish Flu pandemic, large public gatherings of all kinds were closed. Now, as LC’s article admits, churches are not being singled out and so any comparison of Christians now to Jews in Nazi Germany is wrong and incredibly insensitive to the reality of the Holocaust.

 

1918 – Bakersfield, CA.

 

First Things and More COVID-19 Denialism

R.R. Reno and First Things has led the way in skepticism about the seriousness of COVID-19 and the need to social distance. I first looked at Reno’s historical revisionism last month in response to his objections to churches closing.

Today, Reno comes forward with an article titled, Coronavirus Reality Check. Well, I agree it is about the Coronavirus.

First paragraphs are supposed to get the reader’s attention and this one does its job.

The coronavirus pandemic is not and never was a threat to society. COVID-19 poses a danger to the elderly and the medically compromised. Otherwise, for most who present symptoms, it can be nasty and persistent, but is not life-threatening. A majority of those infected do not notice that they have the disease. Coronavirus presents us with a medical challenge, not a crisis. The crisis has been of our own making.

In what most public health experts believe is the beginning of the COVID-19 ordeal, Reno pronounces the pandemic no threat to society. However, for Reno, society is something and someone other than the elderly and the medically compromised. This exclusion is reason enough to question what comes next.

Reno’s dismissal of COVID-19 as a threat is based on a sunny reading of selected findings about mortality rates. He gets his first comparison between the flu and COVID-19 very wrong when he writes:

The next day, Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis sifted through the data and predicted less widespread infection and a fatality rate of between 0.05 and 1.0 percent—not that different from the common flu. The coronavirus is not the common flu. It has different characteristics, afflicting the old more than the young, men more than women. Nevertheless, all data trends since mid-March show that Ferguson was fantastically wrong and Ioannidis was largely right about its mortal threat.

Reno here compares Ioannidis’ speculations about COVID-19’s death rate (.05-1%) to that of the common flu. This is an irresponsible and misleading comparison. According to the CDC website, there were 2 flu deaths per 100,000 people in 2017. Most recent estimates I have seen for the flu are at about .1% (not 1.0%). Much of Reno’s argument is based on this spurious comparison. He really wants COVID-19 to be comparable to the flu so we can just blame the frantic infectious disease crazies and get back to normal.

Since Reno insists Ioannidis has had the better model, let’s see how his predictions have worked out. In his March Stat article, Ioannidis wrote:

If we assume that case fatality rate among individuals infected by SARS-CoV-2 is 0.3% in the general population — a mid-range guess from my Diamond Princess analysis — and that 1% of the U.S. population gets infected (about 3.3 million people), this would translate to about 10,000 deaths.

As I write this, according to Worldometer.info, the death toll in the U.S. is 56,173.

Reno is correct that the fatality rate is likely to be much lower than the 2-5% that is showing up in the states. Due to the puzzling cases of asymptomatic carriers of the virus, many people have it and don’t know it. However, even if it is .3%, that is three times higher than the flu. If it is .3% (which it appears to be in Chelsea, MA — a place cited by Reno but without stats), that would be a huge increase in deaths as the virus spreads. The fact is we don’t know what is going to happen and Reno’s appeal to science is tendentious. He picks what he likes.

Let me say that I am not unsympathetic to the impulse to get back to normal. As a psychology professor, I realize that poverty, isolation, and joblessness make existing bad conditions worse for many. A complete shutdown over many months would require a coordination and distribution of resources to the masses which the current administration is incapable of performing.

Due to the bungling of testing and crisis management by the federal administration there was no way to know where the disease was prevalent. It is highly likely that the stay at home orders (based on experience in previous pandemics) prevented outbreaks of the disease. Americans responded well to the guidelines and lives have been saved as a result. It is a mystery to me why skeptics don’t appear to entertain the notion that prevention worked.

However, Reno wants the whole thing to have been a waste of time and money. He writes:

We need to be told the truth about COVID-19’s effect. It is not a uniquely perilous disease; for people under 35, it may be less dangerous than the flu.

I agree we need to be told the truth, but we don’t know all the truth yet.  There is much scientists are still learning about it. An article in Science summarizing research on the virus to date concluded:

Despite the more than 1000 papers now spilling into journals and onto preprint servers every week, a clear picture is elusive, as the virus acts like no pathogen humanity has ever seen.

Reno wants us to believe his expert. However, his expert was wrong too. Ioannidis was close on the mortality rate but his assumption of 1% infection rate was way off. There is a lot that is still not known and caution in the face of the unknown still seems like a wise policy to me.

 

I’ll Be Home for Easter

Literally, I will be home for Easter. My wife and I will be watching our church service on the television in our living room. I’ll miss seeing my brothers and sisters at church, but Easter will happen and God will be fine with it.

Some Christian pastors are not happy about this, and some Christians are stirring up a ruckus. For example, the president of the Claremont (CA) Institute, Ryan Williams, appears to be calling for civil disobedience.

I don’t understand the problem. I am naturally a skeptic and don’t like being ordered around, but I really like breathing. Taking rational precautions to avoid COVID-19 just seems smart. I can tell the difference between an arbitrary usurpation of my natural rights and a situational one in a crisis.

The Common Good 1918 Style

In 1918, the people of Claremont, CA apparently didn’t mind putting the common good ahead of their rights. With just a little bit of searching, I found this clipping from the October 26 edition of the Pomona Bulletin Sun.

During the Spanish Flu pandemic, churches all over the U.S. closed. There were some clergy who complained but here is a truth: closing churches didn’t lead to a loss of religious rights. It was temporary and a benefit to all citizens. Christianity survived; some might say it thrived.

Some might protest, “But Easter?” Well, Easter is an important day in Christianity to be sure. But Christians aren’t supposed to worry about how we keep “holy days.” The book of Colossians tells us, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” (2:16).

In my tradition, I get no more grace or credit for going to church on Easter than any other day. The first Easter the grave was empty. This year our church will be pretty empty too. But that’s okay. If He is taking attendance, God can keep track of where we all are.

On the Constitutional question, legal scholar Jonathan Turley opined today that the state has the right to halt church gatherings temporarily. I agree that the state has a compelling interest in stopping the spread of the virus and has not singled out religion or any particular church. The edicts are temporary, impose no permanent harm on churches, and do not prevent other means of worship (e.g., online). Although untested, I agree with Turley that the courts would likely uphold the orders to close.

But I really cringe to hear about churches taking things to that extreme. Christians are not of this world, but we are in it. And if we are going to do any good in it, we shouldn’t put our desire to meet for a church service over the good of our neighbors.

Addendum:

The technology of 1918 was the local newspaper and pastors used the papers to communicate with their congregations. The Pomona Bulletin Sun (11/3/1918) gave local pastors space to give greetings to their flock at home.

I appreciate this winsome word from Methodist preacher Walter Buckner: