Arkansas church gatherings lead to dozens of cases of COVID-19
Several gatherings at an Arkansas church between March 6 and 11 resulted in 35 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among attendees and 26 additional cases among contacts of attendees, according to findings published in MMWR. Researchers said this further highlights the potential for widespread transmission of COVID-19 at both group gatherings and within the broader community.
“High transmission rates of SARS-CoV-2 have been reported from hospitals, long-term care facilities, family gatherings, a choir practice and, in this report, church events,” Allison James, DVM, PhD, of the Arkansas Department of Health and the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, and colleagues wrote. “Faith-based organizations that are operating or planning to resume in-person operations, including regular services, funerals or other events, should be aware of the potential for high rates of transmission of SARS-CoV-2.”
On March 6, 7 and 8, a church in Arkansas hosted a 3-day children’s event, which consisted of several indoor sessions attended by both children and adults. Children and adults also attended a Bible study event on March 11.
The church pastor and his wife became the first two cases of COVID-19 identified by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) in their county. They developed nonspecific respiratory symptoms and fevers on March 10 and 11. The ADH also identified two other patients who were symptomatic throughout the events from March 6-8 during their investigation; these individuals are now considered the primary cases “because they likely initiated the chain of transmission among church attendees,” according to the MMWR.
In total, 35 cases of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 were identified among all 92 people who attended the church events. After stratifying for age, researchers found that COVID-19 rates were lower among people aged 18 years and younger (6.3%-25%) when compared with adults aged 19 to 64 years (59.4%-82.6%; P < .01). Of the 35 attendees with COVID-19, seven were hospitalized and three died. The ADH identified at least 26 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 among community members who reported contact with one or more of the church attendees with confirmed COVID-19. Of these contacts, one was hospitalized and later died. In total, as of April 22, 61 cases — including eight hospitalizations and four deaths — had been recorded in people with direct and indirect connections to events at the church.
“Faith-based organizations should work with local health officials to determine how to implement the U.S. government guidelines for modifying activities during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent transmission of the virus to their members and their communities,” the authors wrote.