A growing number of deadly coronavirus outbreaks have been linked to big events at churches and religious organizations.
UPDATE: Church Ordered to Shut Down After Coronavirus Outbreak Kills 5, Infects 143+ People
In October 2020, health officials ordered United House of Prayer for All People in Charlotte, North Carolina to close for 2 weeks and stop in-person gatherings after a deadly coronavirus outbreak was linked to a convocation at the church from October 4 to October 11.
The event resulted in at least 5 deaths and 143 COVID-19 infections in 4 counties, according to the health department. At least 3 deaths and 19 illnesses occurred at a senior living facility: Madison Saints Paradise South Senior Living Facility.
The shut-down orders were quickly issued after the church announced plans to continue holding more big events, such as the “Worldwind Revival,” which was scheduled for October 25 to October 31.
Do Coronavirus “Stay at Home” Orders Violate Religious Freedom?
Since the first “stay at home” orders were issued in the U.S. in March 2020, the vast majority of church-goes have accepted restrictions on their religious freedoms for a few weeks. These short-term sacrifices have been credited with preventing an uncontrolled disease outbreak.
The Governor of California said: “Practice your faith, but do so in a way that allows you to keep yourself healthy, keep others healthy and does justice to the teachings of Christ and God and others.”
Pastor Dies After Coronavirus Outbreak At Baptist Church
In April 2020, a pastor in Georgia died of coronavirus in an outbreak at Palmer Grove Baptist Church that also infected several members of the congregation. Pastor Jerry J. Smith died after battling coronavirus, according to the Burke County Coroner’s Office. He last attended a youth revival on March 11, 2020.
California Megachurch Linked to Deadly Coronavirus Outbreak
A deadly outbreak of coronavirus infected at least 71 members of the Bethany Slavic Missionary Church near Sacramento, California, according to county officials. One parishioner died of COVID-19, and the pastor was also infected. The church stopped weekly services, but church members continued to meet in groups for fellowship meetings.
Florida Megachurch Pastor Arrested for Violating “Say At Home” Health Order
In March 2020, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne of the River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida, was arrested and charged with unlawful assembly after a large group of parishioners packed into the church, in violation of an official “stay-at-home” order.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said at a news conference:
“His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk. As well as put thousands of residents who may interact with them in danger.”
Louisiana Pastor Charged After 1,000 Parishioners Pack into Life Tabernacle Church
In Louisiana, police issued a misdemeanor summons to Pastor Tony Spell after more than 1,000 people packed into the Life Tabernacle Church for his services on March 22, 2020.
How Churches Can Prevent Coronavirus Outbreaks
- Buy supplies of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and masks.
- Encourage frequent hand-washing and good hygiene.
- Pick a single entry-point to the church to have congregants wash their hands and check for symptoms.
- Discourage sick people and family members from coming to church
- Eliminate non-essential activities at church
- Avoid passing communion plates or common items
- Avoid personal-touch elements of a service, like peace-passing, offerings, or books
- Social distance at church: Add more space between chairs, or bigger gaps in pews.