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.

 

 

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.

Pro-Life Lite: Ben Shapiro on the Death of Grandma

I am old enough to remember the conservative outrage over nonexistent death panels in the Affordable Care Act. I am even old enough to remember the outrage over CO Governor Richard Lamm’s pronouncement that terminally ill have a duty to die and not use resources younger people could better use. And because I am so old, I am not enamored with Ben Shapiro’s (on the right below) reasoning here. Watch:

The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing the unseemly elements of some who call themselves pro-life. I have written recently about R.R. Reno and his view of society as excluding the old and medically compromised.

I have no problem with disagreements over logistics of social distancing and suppression efforts. In fact, the “lockdown” hasn’t been a complete lockdown of all economic activity. States are starting to relax some of their restrictions as more is learned about the virus and as the earlier efforts are paying off.

We also now know that the elderly and nursing homes need special attention. What is amazing to me is that the conservative, pro-life folks haven’t been on top of that. If anything, when questions of life versus standard of living comes up, you get this utilitarian garbage such as Shapiro is promoting.

We really can have public policy that takes care of everybody. We are talking about a comparison of death versus temporary limitations in mobility and standard of living. There are legitimate discussions to have about the human costs of unemployment and access to human services. Given the money being redistributed by politicians, those needs can be met and still take care of people vulnerable to COVID-19. However, public policy that can walk and chew gum is apparently too hard and complex for what passes as today’s conservative leaders.

On R.R. Reno’s Faulty History

In a widely criticized essay on current state imposed social distancing, First Things editor R.R. Reno said the following about social reaction to the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic:

More than one hundred years ago, Americans were struck by a terrible flu pandemic that affected the entire world. Their reaction was vastly different from ours. They continued to worship, go to musical performances, clash on football fields, and gather with friends.

After insisting that Americans of 1918 understood methods of quarantine, Reno suggests they just didn’t care.

Unlike us, however, that generation did not want to live under Satan’s rule, not even for a season. They insisted that man was made for life, not death. They bowed their head before the storm of disease and endured its punishing blows, but they otherwise stood firm and continued to work, worship, and play, insisting that fear of death would not govern their societies or their lives.

Although surely some churches worshiped, some games were played and some gatherings were held, these paragraphs and the contrast between now and then is grossly inaccurate. It is so irresponsibly misleading that Reno and First Things should retract the piece or at the least issue a public correction.

The Spanish Flu Pandemic

The Spanish Flu pandemic claimed 50+million lives world-wide in 1918. It was highly contagious and was particularly hard on young people. It is well documented that Philadelphia was particularly hard hit because city leaders did not quarantine their citizens whereas other towns around the country (e.g., St; Louis, Columbus) did so and experienced a much lower death rate.

However, is Reno correct that outside of those famous cases, life went on as normal? Did citizens bow their heads “before the storm of disease?” The definitive book on the pandemic is John Barry’s The Great Influenza, but it is relatively easy to find evidence that Reno is wrong on all counts. Below is some of that evidence.

Worship

Today some churches are meeting. Would Reno say that we are bowing our heads against the storm of disease? Obviously not, his problem is that are cancellations at all.

In 1918, church services were canceled in cities large and small due to the virus. For instance, Evanston, IL closed just about everything in October, 1918 in response to a growing number of flu cases.

Little Urich, MO closed everything including churches during the second wave of the epidemic.

In Columbus, OH, a minister’s council advised churches to close in response to the orders from the State Board of Health.

On Oct. 11, 1918, the State Board of Health ordered all theaters, schools and churches closed and banned public funerals.

The Columbus Citizen reported that “Columbus Ministerial Council has requested of all churches that they close doors and not debate whether or not the order applies.”

From Nashville, to Dallas, to Worcester churches closed even though some pastors didn’t like it.

Football

Reno is also wrong about football. There was no professional football league yet. In fact, one can make a case that the flu pandemic delayed the development of a professional league until 1920. There was interest in forming a league and people played professionally, but games were postponed due to the flu. For instance, this article in the October 15, 1918 edition of the Akron Evening Times shows that pro football had to be put aside for awhile.

High school and college football also suffered due to bans on crowds and playing in games. Far fewer college games were played (704 in 1917 v. 394 in 1918) on account of WWI and the Spanish flu pandemic). While it is true that the season was not completely canceled, it is not true that the people of the time plugged on as if death and illness was inevitable. A sports columnist from the Baltimore Sun lamented the impact of the flu on the gridiron.

High school games were also canceled due to the quarantine as in Wichita, KS.

Social Distancing

I hope it is apparent that the people of 1918 are a lot like the people of 202o. Some now don’t see the need to socially distance and some then didn’t either. However, that doesn’t mean the people of 1918 didn’t do so. Just a few more examples should demonstrate how Reno’s history is so far off.

All over the nation, social gatherings, churches, sporting events, etc. were canceled. Health officials took their responsibilities seriously and issued warnings and orders, just like now, and hoped their fellow citizens would have the good sense to do what was right. Just like now.

Reno and First Things have abused their platform in a very significant way. Of course, Reno is entitled to his view of life and death. However, using faulty history is beneath First Things and it should be corrected.

Additional information:

Many other cities closed schools, churches, and various social gatherings during the pandemic. For reference, I am going to list links to additional resources describing contradictions to Reno’s claims.

Minneapolis-St. Paul closed schools, churches, and businesses off and on throughout the pandemic.

Also in MN, Bemidji’s mayor ordered all public gatherings, including churches, to close during October of 1918.

Los Angeles shut down schools, churches, and other public gatherings for seven weeks.

Winston-Salem, NC shut down schools, churches, and theaters in October, 1918.

Tacoma and Pullyup, WA closed public gatherings from early October through November.

Nebraska’s state government ordered the closure of “schools, churches, places of entertainment, and public gatherings” in early October.

Other cities that closed down various public meetings spaces include: Houston, Chicago, Aspen COBaltimore.

The House and Senate closed their public galleries during October 1918.

 

 

 

 

COVID-19 Information and Open Forum

Coronavirus information is everywhere so I want to list a few resources that I am using and want to get all in one place.

The website I am checking most is 1Point3Acres. This site has real time updates of new cases in the U.S. and Canada and all states and provinces. There are links to sources for all claims and links to the health departments of every state. The computer engineers staffing this site have been diligent in their work to keep it up to date.

Johns Hopkins University has a worldwide map of cases and deaths. The JHU resource center page is full of information on the virus.

Our World in Data tracks the growth of cases in most countries where the virus has appeared.

Although not as helpful as the JHU site, I should also mention the CDC website.

Trump dissolved the office for Global Health in the National Security Council which would have coordinated an early strategy. He now takes no responsibility for his actions.

Feel free to add additional links in the comments section. We are inching closer to a shutdown (announced more tightening here in PA today) so we all might have more time to read and comment.

Desiring God and Mental Health: Name It Claim It for Your Brain (UPDATED)

Update at the end of the post…
Last week, I wrote about Kenneth and Gloria Copeland who think you can speak cures for PTSD and the flu. Today, I present a different form of name it claim it – John Piper’s Desiring God and anti-mirror therapy for mental health. Earlier today, Desiring God tweeted:


Repeat after me: Mental health is health. Mental illness is illness. Brain is body.
I suspect John Piper would cringe to think he has something in common with the Copelands but turning mental health into a spiritual fruit is in that ballpark.
Copeland says soldiers can get rid of their PTSD with a dose of Scripture. Desiring God prescribes a spiritual refocus as if those who are mentally healthy are spiritually sound.
Perhaps I am sensitive to this message due to my clinical experience with Christians. I have seen the damaging effects of messages like this and know how Christians with mental health diagnoses hear this.
Tweets like the one from Desiring God reinforce the misconception that mental health conditions can be overcome by willpower or positive thinking. Those who struggle have to deal with their illness and the stigma from those in the church who spiritualize their illness. Although beyond the scope of this post, an important issue is that, generally speaking, evangelicals have not grappled with the reality of brain as body. Consciousness arises from brain and does not reside in a spiritual substance independent of body. Like it or not, if you don’t deal with this, I don’t think you understand who we are as human beings. Knock out certain parts of our brain and we become different people. I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon or Sunday school series on the religious significance of our brains.
Some people using the Tweet advice will find comfort because they have positive associations in their brains to images of God which might take their minds off a negative personal preoccupation. However, someone else with different brain chemistry and history may not make the same associations. They may try to work their brains in the same way, but due to something out of their conscious control, their feelings do not respond in the same way. They do not and cannot find mental health no matter how long they stop staring in the mirror.
When those who don’t succeed with anti-mirror therapy go to church, they feel even worse because their faith is questioned. They are told, even if subtly or indirectly, that they don’t have enough faith. If they just believed harder or put God first, or dealt with the sin in their lives, then the advice would work.
Last year, a friend of mine wrote about the frustration of depression:

Occasionally, bouts of depression are triggered by obvious catalysts, like losing a job or loved one or some kind of overt trauma. Often, though, nothing is “wrong”. We’re not upset or sad or angry or stressed about anything particular, but our body is deploying hormones as though we’re being attacked.
It is these episodes that are most frustrating to the friends and family of people who have depression; they don’t know what to do to help because there’s seemingly nothing wrong. The victims of those moments find it doubly frustrating, as a silent, crushing dread slowly bears down on our souls, challenging us to find a name for it.

This frustration is compounded by Christians conflating mental health with spiritual status. If the Desiring God tweet had said enlightenment or satisfaction or something other than mental health would come from staring at God’s beauty, that would be fine. I hope John Piper and his crew will pull that tweet and clarify that they are not the Copelands.
 
UPDATE (2/6/18): Not long after I published this article, Desiring God posted the following Tweet:


The link is to a 2007 tribute by John Piper to Clyde Kilby. This follow up tweet is confusing because the original tweet which aroused so much reaction isn’t found in the 2007 article. The closest statement to it is this statement attributed to Kilby by Piper:

Stop seeking mental health in the mirror of self-analysis, and start drinking in the remedies of God in nature.

This isn’t at all what Desiring God originally tweeted. The “remedies of God in nature” could easily refer to medication or therapy or an experience in nature. Since Piper quoted it approvingly I don’t really know what Kilby meant. In any case, I am less concerned with the Kilby article and more concerned with the spin engaged in by whoever is running the Twitter account at Desiring God.

Gloria Copeland: Jesus Gave Us the Flu Shot

Since October 2017, over 2300 Texans have died due to the flu. In the face of that fact, Gloria Copeland, wife of word of faith preacher Kenneth Copeland, took to Kenneth Copeland Ministries’ Facebook page yesterday to declare that there is no flu season.

Although she doesn’t explicitly say ‘don’t get a flu shot,’ it certainly sounds like she wants her hearers to trust Jesus instead of getting a shot. In the video, she says:

We’ve already had out shot. He bore out sicknesses and carried our diseases. That’s what we stand on. And by His stripes, we are healed.

After she prays for healing for every person with the flu, she says:

Jesus Himself gave us the flu shot. He redeemed us from the curse of flu. And we receive it and we take it and we are healed by His stripes.

At the end of the talk, she says to “inoculate yourself with the Word of God.”
She also used the video to sell an upcoming “healing seminar.”

It’s NOT flu season! Yes, you heard it right. The flu is NOT a season we have around here because Jesus bore ALL our sickness on the cross. This includes the flu! If you’re overcoming the flu right now, listen in as Gloria prays for YOU! Are you believing for a miracle in your health? Join us for Miracles on the Mountain, Feb. 16-17 with Healing Evangelist Billy Burke. Admission is FREE. Learn more and register here: kcm.org/miracles18.

This is probably tame, run of the mill advice for a faith healing ministry. However, it is so obviously fake and irresponsible to direct people away from flu shots. And it isn’t the first time that Copeland’s teachings have been implicated in discouraging vaccines.
On Kenneth Copeland’s website, you can find 10 verses to help you take a stand against the flu. No advice to see a doctor or get a flu shot can be found.
The flu is at high level nationally and if you haven’t had a flu shot, go get one. And that includes you Gloria.

Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Allowing Counselors To Refer Based On Counselor's "Sincerely Held Principles"

Previously, I posted a link to a Tennessee bill which gives permission to counselors to refer clients over conflicts with a counselor’s “sincerely held beliefs.”
Last week, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed the bill into law. His reasoning was summarized in a statement after he signed the bill:

The following is the Gov. Haslam’s statement on Senate Bill 1556 (http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/109/Amend/HA1006.pdf):
“Although Senate Bill 1556 has received attention for its perceived focus, my job is to look at the actual substance of the legislation. After considerable thought and discussion with counselors both for and against the bill, I have decided to sign Senate Bill 1556. There are two key provisions of this legislation that addressed concerns I had about clients not receiving care. First, the bill clearly states that it ‘shall not apply to a counselor or therapist when an individual seeking or undergoing counseling is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.’ Secondly, the bill requires that any counselor or therapist who feels they cannot serve a client due to the counselor’s sincerely held principles must coordinate a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy,” Haslam said.
“The substance of this bill doesn’t address a group, issue or belief system. Rather, it allows counselors – just as we allow other professionals like doctors and lawyers – to refer a client to another counselor when the goals or behaviors would violate a sincerely held principle. I believe it is reasonable to allow these professionals to determine if and when an individual would be better served by another counselor better suited to meet his or her needs.”
The bill was signed by the speakers on April 13 and transmitted to the governor for action on April 15.
The bill language is available at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/109/Amend/HA1006.pdf.

While I appreciate the amendments requiring care in cases of homicidal or suicidal risk, I don’t support this bill. This bill allows discriminatory actions toward anyone, including religious people, based on a vague condition of a counselor’s conflict involving “sincerely held principles.” While I believe some conflicts could be so great that a referral would be the best course of action in the immediate situation, this bill points counselors in another direction. For mental health care to be fully integrated with health care, a value of treating all people is required. I don’t want a health care system where providers are allowed to delay care based on personal disagreements with patients. I do think providers should be allowed to decline performing certain treatments (e.g., abortion, hypnosis, EMDR, etc.) but I don’t think a referral based on personal disagreement should be the norm in health care.
 

With David Barton as Principal Officer, Non-Profit Mercury One Gave $100k to Barton's Wallbuilders

Sometime in 2013, Mercury One, a non-profit founded by Glenn Beck but run by principal officer David Barton, gave $100,000 to Barton’s Wallbuilders, also a non-profit run by Barton. Such gifts appear to be questionable under IRS guidelines addressing gifts which benefit insiders.
Barton founded and is head of Wallbuilders, and was recently tapped to run the Keep the Promise group of Super PACs with over $38 million to spend supporting Ted Cruz.
On Mercury One’s 2013 990 form, Barton is listed in box F as the principal officer:
MercuryOne9902013
 
 
The IRS describes the principal officer (page 9):

For purposes of this item, “principal officer” means an officer of the organization who, regardless of title, has ultimate responsibility for implementing the decisions of the organization’s governing body, or for supervising the management, administration, or operation of the organization.

Thus, if Mercury One filed the 990 properly, Barton has ultimate responsibility for operating the non-profit. Without examining anything else, that is a noteworthy finding.
Barton is also listed as officer along with only two other board members, Glenn Beck’s wife and his longtime attorney and researcher, Joseph Kerry.
MercuryOne9902013board
Certainly by the standards of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, this is an unacceptable composition for a board. None of these people are independent and it seems improper for Kerry to assume three positions. As principal officer, Barton only needs one other person to vote with him to do anything.
Later, the 990 reports that Wallbuilders received $100, 000. This gift accounts for about 7.5% of the income Wallbuilders received in gifts and grants in 2013.
MercuryOne9902013WBGrant
 
 
According to the IRS, non-profits are for the public interest and not private interest.

Private Benefit and Inurement
A public charity is prohibited from allowing more than an insubstantial accrual of private benefit to individuals or organizations. This restriction is to ensure that a tax-exempt organization serves a public interest, not a private one. If a private benefit is more than incidental, it could jeopardize the organization’s tax-exempt status.
No part of an organization’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of an insider. An insider is a person who has a personal or private interest in the activities of the organization such as an officer, director, or a key employee. This means that an organization is prohibited from allowing its income or assets to accrue to insiders. An example of prohibited inurement would include payment of unreasonable compensation to an insider. Any amount of inurement may be grounds for loss of tax-exempt status.
If a public charity provides an economic benefit to any person who is in a position to exercise substantial influence over its affairs (that exceeds the value of any goods or services provided in consideration), the organization has engaged in an excess benefit transaction. A public charity that engages in such a transaction must report it to the IRS. Excise taxes are imposed on any person who engages in an excess benefit transaction with a public charity, and on any organization manager who knowingly approves such a transaction. (See Reporting Excess Benefit Transactions on page 12).

Only the IRS can make a final determination but this transaction looks like it is worth exploring. Barton certainly is an insider at Mercury One and, via Wallbuilders, he benefited from the gift. The $100,000 is almost as much as Barton reported as compensation in 2013.
 

John Catanzaro Does Victory Dance

Clearly John Catanzaro hopes people don’t read the actual settlement reached with the Department of Health.
[youtube]http://youtu.be/OndGls86cw0[/youtube]
Catanzaro makes it seem like he did the Department of Health a favor and he did nothing wrong. However, he stipulated to deceiving the Department and he has to pay former patients $180,750 to cover the costs of vaccines he charged for but did not administer.
Catazaro admitted to the same charges made back in January. Here is just one in which he agrees with the Department of Health that his treatment was not safe and he engaged in unprofessional conduct.
CatanzaroUnsafe
 
Catanzaro is pretty brazen; he still has to apply for reinstatement and yet he is counting his vaccines before they are hatched.