At least 12 coronavirus cases have been linked to a Tennessee church that reopened for Sunday services, a pastor says.
Westmore Church of God held at least three recent in-person services before lead pastor Kelvin Page announced that people had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the congregation’s Facebook posts.
On June 24, Page in a Facebook group for the church shared a post about the first four cases connected to the church.
“Two of those who have contracted the virus are members that HAVE NOT been in services with us,” he wrote on Facebook. “The other two individuals have been in worship services.”
In a video published two days later, Page said the number of cases had risen to 12 after thinking the first four were “isolated.” More people felt sick and were getting tests, according to the pastor.
“In the days since, people connected to the church said the outbreak is two or three times that number,” the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Wednesday.
It is unclear how people have tested positive after attending the services in Cleveland, roughly 30 miles northeast of Chattanooga. In response to a request for comment, the church directed McClatchy News to its official statement.
“To date, Westmore leadership has been made aware of a number of additional confirmed cases within our congregation, which is reflective of the growing number of cases throughout our community, including within other churches,” the congregation said in a news release posted Thursday on Facebook.
After first reopening its doors on May 31, Westmore Church of God said it has taken measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. People had the choice to go to the sanctuary, join remotely or tune in from a church viewing area that adhered to health guidelines, officials said in the news release.
“Since reopening, congregants and attendees have been encouraged to make good choices and to participate in whatever service option they feel most comfortable,” the release said.
The church on its website said it held a virtual service on June 28 and plans to hold one again July 5. A live stream option will be available when in-person services resume as early as July 12, according to the online post.
“Social distancing will be observed throughout our campus, including within the sanctuary (where social distancing will be required), and face coverings will be strongly encouraged to be worn by all attendees,” the post said.
The congregation says it will also continue to disinfect surfaces, supply hand sanitizer and have gloved greeters open door handles.
The state of Tennessee has seen the number of reported daily coronavirus cases go up in the past few weeks, the Times Free Press reported. Since the start of the pandemic, the state has seen more than 45,000 confirmed cases and 609 deaths, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.