A resident of Butte County tested positive for COVID-19 on the Monday after they attended a Mother's Day church service with around 180 others, causing alarm bells for rural California counties that are reopening ahead of more urban ones.
The in-person service, held by an unnamed church in the county that is home to the towns of Oroville, Chico, Durham, and Paradise, occurred on May 10, against the orders of the state and the county public health department. As part of Phase 2 of the state's reopening plan, which some California counties were entering over the past week, curbside retail can reopen, and in 22 counties where case counts have remained low, a second half of the phase allows for restaurants to reopen with distancing and cleaning protocols. But large gatherings, including church services and nightclubs, remain banned statewide.
As the LA Times reports, contact tracers in Butte County are still trying to reach all of the people who attended the church service that day, and some have already been tested and are awaiting results. No other positive cases except the initial congregant who tested positive on Monday has yet been found.
"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," said Butte County public health director Danette York in a statement. "Moving too quickly through the reopening process can cause a major setback and could require us to revert back to more restrictive measures."
York tells the Mercury News that the county does not intend to name/shame the church publicly, however it seems inevitable if an actual outbreak were to occur that the name will come out.
"The reason we’re not giving out that information is because we have the ability to track down every single person that was in attendance at the gathering,” York told the paper. “So we will be able to speak to them individually. 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."
Churchgoers have been told to self-quarantine, and the person with the positive diagnosis is isolating as well.
This news follows a poll released last week that found that 31 percent of god-fearing Americans believe that the coronavirus is a sign from God that humanity needs to clean up its act. But in this case, isn't it also a sign that you shouldn't be going to church?
Update: In a Facebook post over the weekend, per the LA Times, the pastor of the congregation in question outed himself, and while he didn't exactly apologize for holding services last week, he did express regret saying he would “never with knowledge put anyone in harms [sic] way.”
Pastor Mike Jacobsen of Palermo Bible Family Church in Palermo, California, has reportedly since deleted his post, and told the LA Times that he needed to think for a bit before making a formal statement. In the post, he wrote, "For 7 weeks we have been kept out of our church and away from our church family. I am fully aware that some people may not understand that for our church it is essential to be together in fellowship."