California churchgoer tests positive for Covid-19 after attending service, exposes 180 attendees to virus

Moving too quickly through the reopening process can trigger outbreaks, forcing officials to enforce more restrictive measures, said an expert

                            California churchgoer tests positive for Covid-19 after attending service, exposes 180 attendees to virus
(Getty Images)

About 180 churchgoers in Butte County, California, are self-quarantining after coming into contact with a Covid-19 positive person, according to health officials. The person tested positive shortly after attending a church service on Mother's Day and may have potentially exposed others to the virus. Officials are trying to examine all the attendees.

The health officials will not reveal the name of the church that stayed open on May 10. “The reason we are not giving out that information is because we have the ability to track down every single person that was in attendance at the gathering,” Butte County Public Health Director Danette York said in a statement.

“Had we not had that capability, we would have had to announce to the public when and where it was because if they were there, they could potentially have been exposed, and we would have needed those people to contact us," he explained.

California has confirmed more than 80,000 positive cases and 3,290 deaths, as of May 17. In March, Governor Gavin Newsom issued stay-at-home orders and forbade gatherings of any size. Though the state is partially open, it continues to prohibit in-person worship.

Protecting public health

The development comes as health experts have time and again warned against the risks of mass gatherings. Butte Officials said the church stayed open, defying state orders. "At this time, organizations that hold in-person services or gatherings are putting the health and safety of their congregations, the general public, and our local ability to open up at great risk," York said.

He added that moving too quickly through the reopening process can trigger outbreaks, forcing officials to enforce more restrictive measures.

Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin greets parishioners as they arrive for an Easter service in the parking lot of the Sunshine Cathedral on April 12, 2020. (Getty Images)

And this is not the only organization to do so. In California's Sacramento County, 71 infections were traced back to a single church. 

On May 17, hundreds of churches across Chicago opened its doors, flouting rules. Defending the decision to reopen, one pastor at Philadelphia Romanian Church of God, told abc7news: "We have people who have spiritual needs. Emotional needs. And this church is much safer than any other open space, like Home Depot or any other store." Calling it dangerous, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said reopening churches was like playing with a gun that is fully loaded and cocked. 

A Lousiana pastor Tony Spell has repeatedly ignored warnings by holding services and refusing to practice social distancing and limit the size of the congregation. The state has eased restrictions on religious organizations, allowing them to resume services only if they limited capacity to 25%. According to CNN, Spell would not enforce this step.

Others said they would ensure social distancing and hygiene before resuming services. For instance, Cornerstone church plans to require socially distant seating for the about 3,000 people who usually attend services each week, and the church will not permit handshaking or fellowship times, a pastor told The New York Times.

Some religious leaders have tried to challenge governors in court. A small evangelical church in the San Joaquin Valley, Cross Culture Christian Center, had sued Newsom. However, a federal judge ruled that the Governor was allowed to ban church assembly to protect public health.

In North Carolina, however, things played out differently. During a lawsuit hearing that Governor Roy Cooper's executive order violated constitutional rights, a judge in the state issued a ruling to temporarily allow indoor worship services to resume, according to WNCN.

"We don't want indoor meetings to become hotspots for the virus, and our health experts continue to warn that large groups sitting together for long periods of time are much more likely to cause the spread of Covid-19," Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper, said in a statement. "While our office disagrees with the decision, we will not appeal, but instead urge houses of worship and their leaders to voluntarily follow public health guidance to keep their members safe," he said.

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