Tennessee Pastor: “We Gave Up on Keeping a Count” Of COVID Cases In Our Church

Screengrab / Westmore Church of God / YouTube

Sarah Shaiman

A potential super spreader event last month may have led to an uptick in cases in Bradley County.

The Church of God denomination in Cleveland, Tennessee, is facing a significant coronavirus outbreak from a potential superspreader event last month, according to a Chattanooga Times Free Press report

  • The outbreak includes churches as well as state and local offices. However, there has been little said about efforts to contact trace and inform those who may be sick. The Pentecostal denomination has approximately 6 million members and is headquartered in Cleveland.  
  • In Tennessee, the severity of outbreaks within churches has largely been hidden unless the church releases the information. The state only reports “clusters connected to long-term care facilities.” 

On June 22, Westmore hosted a regional worship service for the Tennessee Church of God state office, part of a monthlong tour of Church of God congregations in Tennessee by church officials. Several hundred people, from across Southeast Tennessee, attended the three-hour, indoor event.

People gathered at Westmore were not wearing masks and many stood in close proximity to one another. A full choir sang. Speakers moved throughout the crowd and people gathered, nearly hugging, to place hands on one another in prayer.

  • In situations like this, one person can potentially infect many with the virus in a short amount of time. These events can also overlord the health departments ability to contact trace, a crucial component of quelling spread, according to Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University. 
  • There have been at least 200 new cases in Bradley County this week alone. It is unclear how many cases were a result of the potential superspreader event. The South Cleveland Church of God has returned to drive-in services. 
  • Worse, the church’s lead pastor Kelvin Page admitted he has no idea as to how many coronavirus cases stemmed from his service. 

“I do not know the exact number,” he told the radio station. “I don’t even know. I wouldn’t even know within a range. I do know that it is way too many. And we’ve got to live and learn from it. And so we gave up on keeping a count.

“I do regret that I can’t give you an exact number,” he added. “I would want to own that. We do know that it hit us hard and that it was way too many people.”

  • He continued to minimize the severity of the virus that has now claimed over 137,000 American lives. He said, “For most of our people, it's been like a flu epidemic. I'm not downplaying that. I do want to alleviate a lot of fear, I think, as having it myself, or excuse me — as have had it.”

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