As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the United States, churches that had been closed — but reopened because they were considered an "essential business" — are now emerging as sources of COVID-19 cases.
According to the New York Times, more than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them erupting over the last month as Americans resumed their pre-pandemic activities.
In West Virginia, The Graystone Baptist Church in Ronceverte resumed services, with masks optional, in early June. Now, there have been at least 51 confirmed coronavirus cases and three deaths tied to the church, health officials told the NYT.
"I felt like, gosh, I was thinking he’d be safe there,” said Libby Morgan, whose father Charles Hiser, 82, was the first of three churchgoers at Graystone to contract the virus.
"You know, you’re in church. Just like a child that goes to school is supposed to feel safe," Libby added.
The Graystone Baptist Church in Ronceverte has since reopened again after a two-week closure.
Pastor Ron Arbaugh told the NYT that his Texas church, the Calvary Chapel of San Antonio, attempted to practice social distancing when it reopened in May.
While ushers, greeters and leaders of the children’s ministry wore face masks, only about half the congregation wore masks during the initial services.
Today, about 50 congregants and staff members — including the pastor and his wife — have tested positive for the coronavirus, Arbaugh confirmed.
“In retrospect, I would have said: Just maintain that distance,” he told the NYT. “In a spiritual environment we had people who were away from fellowship for so long and in isolation. They were hurting. We just got to a point where we thought, we need to have normal church services.”
Kanakuk Kamps, a Christian youth camp in Missouri that opened in early June, has been the source of over 80 COVID-19 cases, the NYT reported.
Melissa Fisher, a parent whose teenagers attended the camp, said that kids were asked to quarantine themselves for two weeks before arriving. But once camp was in session, they were not required to wear masks in small groups of bunkmates.
“I don’t think the camp should be penalized or put in a dark light for having camp,” Fisher said. “They went above and beyond for these kids to have some sort of normal.”
Oregon and Louisiana are among other states that have seen churches and religious facilities become the source of growing COVID-19 cases.
The U.S. is currently on track to hit over 3 million coronavirus cases, while at least 131,000 people in the country have died as of Wednesday afternoon, per the NYT's database.
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