President Donald Trump has proclaimed he will force states to reopen church services — something that he has no clear authority to do, and which could be disastrous for public health if he did, as hundreds of COVID-19 outbreaks across the country have been traced back to church services.
Here are just a handful of the outbreaks that began in churches:
- Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist Church, Lanett, Alabama
According to the Montgomery Advertiser, at the beginning of April “74 people in Chambers County were confirmed to have COVID-19 infections. Though other counties, such as Jefferson County, have higher case counts, Chambers’ per capita infection rate was a staggering 223 per 100,000 by Friday morning, nearly four times its closest rival.” The cluster is suspected to be linked to a church in Lanett, and 10 of the cases were parishioners there.
As the report notes, “Pastor Lamar Johnson closed Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist Church doors on March 21, just a few days after he said he received reports of sick congregants.” But despite this, it wasn’t quick enough to prevent the spread of the disease.
- Unidentified church, Arkansas
On Friday, the CDC published a report on a spike in COVID-19 cases stemming from a rural church in Arkansas.
“In total, 92 people attended the church events leading to 35 people later being confirmed to have contracted COVID-19,” reported KRCG. “Three of the attendees at these events died. The investigation states those who tested positive ranged from under 18 years of age to over 65 with the majority being between 19 to 64-years-old.”
- Bethany Slavic Missionary Church, Sacramento, California
In April, 70 cases of COVID-19 in Sacramento, California were linked to a Russian-language megachurch, according to CNN.
“In an interview with a Sacramento television station on Thursday, Sacramento County Department of Health Services director Dr. Peter Beilenson confirmed at least 70 people at the Bethany Slavic Missionary Church were infected with Covid-19,” wrote Stephanie Becker. “He said he named the church ‘not to cast aspersions on anybody but to really hammer home the importance of not congregating, not only in church but also in prayer gatherings in people’s homes.’ It is one of the largest outbreak clusters of the virus in the US.”
- Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle, Ringgold, Georgia
In May, after an independent Baptist church reopened in Georgia with the lifting of the state’s stay-at-home order, they were forced to shut down again after a devastating coronavirus outbreak.
“Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle, an independent Baptist church led by Pastor Justin Gazaway in Ringgold, Georgia, restarted in-person services on April 26,” reported the Christian Post. “Church representative Joan Lewis told The Christian Post on Monday, however, that they decided to suspend ‘in-person worship services for the foreseeable future’ on May 11 after learning several families had contracted the virus. ‘Our hearts are heavy as some of our families are dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 virus, and we ask for your prayers for each of them as they follow the prescribed protocol and recuperate at home,’ the church said in a formal statement.”
- Three churches, Wyandotte County, Kansas
In early April, according to the Kansas City Star, “three church-related clusters had been identified in Wyandotte County: A ministers conference at Miracle Temple Church of God in Christ, a March 14 gala at Rising Star Baptist Church, and congregation members at Power Realm Church of God in Christ.”
Additionally, said an earlier report from KDHE, “at least seven cases may be associated with a church conference hosted in March in Kansas City, Kansas.”
- Star of Bethlehem and Life Apostolic Church, Hopkins County, Kentucky
According to the Courier-Journal, two Hopkins County churches, Star of Bethlehem and Life Apostolic Church, are implicated in an outbreak as a result of a joint event they held to mark their anniversary in March.
Star of Bethlehem has defended itself from local criticism, saying it is not the only church that held services in the area and adding, “The Church asks for the public’s prayers during this difficult time and that the church, its members and visiting preacher’s privacy be respected.”
- Holy Ghost Catholic Church, Houston, Texas
Earlier this week, KHOU reported that a Catholic church in southwest Houston had to cancel public Masses after five workers at the church tested positive.
“The five members of the religious order live and work at Holy Ghost Catholic Church,” said the report. “The church said a priest, Donnell L. Kirchner, died on May 13 and may have been infected with the virus as well. Father Kirchner was 79.”