John MacArthur: There is No Pandemic

Just now at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, John MacArthur told his congregation,

In truth, 6% of the deaths that have occurred can be directly attributable to COVID, 94% cannot. Of the 160,000 people that have died, 9,210 actually died from COVID.

There is no pandemic.

Watch:

MacArthur cited a recent CDC report on causes of COVID-19 deaths (Here is the CDC report in question). It provides the comorbid conditions for the vast majority of deaths triggered by COVID-19. COVID-19 and something else contributed to most deaths. What MacArthur seems to be unaware of is that most of those people would be alive today if they had not contracted COVID-19.

What is embarrassing for MacArthur is that this has been known for months. The CDC has released reports before showing the underlying health conditions of deaths and hospitalized patients.  Yet, in ominous tones, MacArthur makes it appear he is revealing some previously concealed truth. While his scary announcement may serve his persecution narrative, it also makes his congregation and followers more vulnerable to the virus.

Although he started out saying he isn’t an expert, he quickly made an erroneous judgment about the data and declared no pandemic to exist despite the reality all around. John MacArthur knows when the experts don’t.

UPDATE: I learned after I posted that QAnon supporters have been talking up this CDC report and Donald Trump retweeted one of them this morning. As I mentioned, the controversy over causes of death and underlying conditions is not a new one. The CDC has been reporting on underlying conditions for months and most deaths are due to multiple causes (e.g. in May, the percent of deaths with COVID-19 alone as a listed cause of death was 7%). That MacArthur touted the report as some kind of revelation makes me wonder where he gets his news and information.

The possible source for this misinterpretation of the CDC data is one of MacArthur’s attorneys in his legal battle to continue worship services indoors – Jenna Ellis. She tweeted a misleading post from far right blog Gateway Pundit on the CDC report very early this morning.

MacArthur attributed his false information to Satan:

It’s clear to us the fabrication of numbers because they’re including people who had two or three comorbidities, we know all of that. We know there are reasons for this that have nothing to do with the virus. There’s another virus loose in the world and that’s the virus of deception and the one who’s behind the virus of deception is the arch deceiver, Satan himself. And it’s not a surprise to me that in the midst of all this deception, the great effort that is going on is to shut down churches that preach the Gospel. So this is not a political speech, by the way. But it does not surprise me that they want to shut down those who preach the Gospel because the architects of this level of deception are not a part of the Kingdom of Heaven. They’re a part of the kingdom of darkness.

Here is a great summary of the facts from the CDC’s weekly report of death data.

I wrote more about this here and was quoted on this story at Religion News Service.

For all of the posts on LA County v. Grace Community Church, click here

For my ongoing tally of churches who are associated with COVID-19 outbreaks, click here

Focus on the Family on List of COVID-19 Outbreaks in Colorado

With three lab confirmed cases and one probable case of COVID-19, Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs, CO has been declared a COVID-19 Outbreak site.

The CO Dept of Public Health defines an outbreak as two or more cases confirmed by a lab test found in a location . Focus on the Family has declared itself to be a church so it will make my list of church outbreaks. The El Paso County site indicates the outbreak is in the bookstore.

CO is one of the states which tracks outbreaks by location and does a great job of making data available to the public on a weekly basis.

John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church has placed focus on church and COVID-19 by refusing to comply with Los Angles County’s Health Order banning indoor church services. The County and church head to court on September 4 in another round to argue the case.

California Judge Denies LA County Request for Restraining Order Against Grace Community Church But Affirms County’s Right to Forbid Indoor Worship

UPDATE (8/25/20) – Judge Beckloff issued his ruling today and declined to issue a restraining order on statutory grounds but told the county that nothing stopped them from enforcing their own Health Order. According to the judge the Court had no jurisdiction to enforce it. A hearing on the merits will be held September 4.

So far LA County has elected not to levy fines or send the authorities out to shut the church down. The court essentially said today that it is up to the county to enforce it or not. MacArthur and his supporters will see this as a victory, but the order remains in effect and the Court of Appeal has said it presumes that it is constitutional. The county could enforce it but may not have the courage to do so.

Read Judge Beckloff’s 8/25/20 decision.

In response to a request for a comment on Beckloff’s ruling, LA County issued this statement.

During this unprecedented health crisis, the Department of Public Health, along with thousands of businesses and millions of residents, has worked tirelessly to curb the transmission of COVID-19 in order to prevent serious illness and death among our residents.   It is deeply disappointing that the Court decided not to grant the County’s request for a temporary restraining order prohibiting Grace Community Church from holding indoor services, as it has done several times in recent weeks. We look forward to a favorable ruling when a full hearing is heard on the matter on September 4. It is also important to note that the County’s Health Officer Order prohibiting indoor gatherings, such as protests and religious services, remains valid and in effect. The Department of Public Health continues to ask residents to do their part and, when attending religious services please stay outdoors, wear a mask and practice social distancing.  Together we can beat the spread of this deadly virus.

Although not directly stated here, it does not appear that the County plans to enforce the Health Order before the September 4 hearing.

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Today before the Honorable Mitchell L. Beckloff, LA County applied again for a restraining order which would prevent Grace Community Church from holding indoor services. At the 8:30am hearing, both sides presented their arguments and the Judge Beckloff took the request for a temporary restraining order under submission. 

A decision is expected either later tonight or tomorrow.

Any restraining order would be in effect only until the September 4 hearing when the Superior Court is expected to rule whether or not the county can enforce the Health Order.

When a decision on the restraining order is announced, I will post it here.

Read: All posts on LA County v. Grace Community Church

L.A. County Applies for Contempt Order and Sanctions Against Grace Community Church and John MacArthur

Yesterday, LA County asked the Superior Court of California to hold Grace Community Church and John MacArthur in contempt of court for violating the August 14 modified temporary restraining order of Judge Chalfant and then the Court of Appeals ruling on August 15th by having services on August 16th and by refusing to allow County health officials access to the church.

Read the LA County application to hold Grace Community Church in contempt

LA County’s Health Order prohibits indoor worship services as one means of stopping the spread of COVID-19. John MacArthur and Grace Community Church believes the order infringes on their rights to gather and worship. Consequently, they have met for indoor worship in violation of the Health Order. On August 14, in response to a request from LA County for a restraining order to halt indoor worship, County Judge James Chalfant denied in part and granted in part the order by allowing Grace Community to meet if they wore masks and physically distanced. LA County then went to the Court of Appeal to ask for that court to set aside the lower court order which it did. At that point, Grace Community disobeyed the Health Order and did not wear masks or physical distance in the Sunday service. Now, the County wants the church and MacArthur held in contempt with sanctions applied.

The County requested a citation of contempt which could lead to a $1,000 fine and up to five days in jail and sanctions which, if imposed, could amount to $1,500 per violation. Depending on how many violations are determined by the court, the fines could be substantial.

In response, the church is not backing down. A press release issued this evening stated: “Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church…are the targets of a County of Los Angeles request to be held in contempt of court. Thomas More Society attorneys are representing the internationally followed preacher and his church and defending their religious freedoms against the county’s unconstitutional violation of the right to worship together.”

Thomas More/MacArthur suit against California

Georgia Reports 49 Place of Worship Outbreaks Associated with 517 Cases, 91 Hospitalizations and 15 Deaths

As a part of my ongoing tracking of place of worship related outbreaks of COVID-19, I asked the Georgia Department of Public Health if the department logged the number of church related outbreaks. Public information representative Nancy Nydam told me, “As of today, there have been 49 COVID-19 church/place of worship outbreak investigations reported to DPH.” She added that as a result of those investigations, 517 cases have been reported as have 91 hospitalizations and 15 deaths.

As of today, GA has reported 241,702 cases and 4,795 deaths. Thus, in GA, church outbreaks have been a small fraction of total cases.  However, these cases may be accelerating. There were 8 place of worship outbreaks from August 6-12 of the 110 outbreaks in Georgia during that time period.* As churches have come together in person, outbreaks have increased. The low total numbers may not be due to safety in church as much as because many churches were meeting online until recently.

As of August 18, 2020 in the U.S., I count 263 religious gatherings associated with at least 3,136 cases of COVID-19 and 43 deaths. My sense is that it is getting harder to keep up with them as churches are beginning to relax their restrictions.

*From the Coastal Health District of the GA Dept of Health website. There were 110 total from August 6-12, 2020. An outbreak is defined as 2 cases or more.

These outbreaks are occurring in settings where people are physically congregating and underscore the need for distancing and source control.

  • Long-term care facilities 23
  • Schools/school athletic teams 14
  • Offices/workplaces 14
  • Manufacturing facilities 13
  • Prisons/jails 13
  • Churches 8
  • Restaurants 4

Outbreaks were also documented in hospitals/outpatient facilities, daycares and grocery stores.

 

 

CA Court of Appeal Upholds Ban on Indoor Worship in John MacArthur Case (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Grace Community Church conducted an indoor meeting this morning with little masking or social distancing. In fact, near the beginning of the service, John MacArthur said, “the good news is that you’re here, you’re not distancing, and you’re not wearing masks.” You can hear that quote in the second part of the audio below.

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Yesterday, the California Court of Appeal set aside Judge Chalfant’s lower court partial denial of Los Angeles County’s restraining order on indoor worship at John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church.

Read the Court of Appeal ruling

Los Angeles County filed an emergency request with the Court of Appeal to prevent Grace Community Church from having indoor services this morning.  In short, the Court of Appeal ruled that county’s Health Order had support from prior court rulings and was likely to be upheld at trial. The Court of Appeal held that the order should be upheld at least until the September 4th hearing, although the church will have an opportunity to present a rebuttal by August 25.

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.