Churches and the Spread of COVID-19 (UPDATED)

Regularly updated. Scroll down for new section (6/29) on churches being monitored due to contact tracing. 

………………………………………………

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.

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.

Arkansas

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

North Carolina

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.

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.

Gates of Praise Church in Fairborn, OH (near Dayton) has been identified as being associated with an outbreak. An exact number of cases has not been identified.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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.

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 18 positive cases. Because the church did not close when the outbreak was first identified on June 10, the outbreak has grown.

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.

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 have been exposed due to public meetings (if known, the date of the meeting(s) is provided).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multiple locations in Arkansas – 6/25/20 – The AR Dept of Health released a list of 40 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)

Last updated 7/8/20