Most of the cases are in people who did not visit the church, said Mecklenburg County’s health director

By Julie Mazziotta
November 30, 2020 02:05 PM
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United House of Prayer for All People
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A COVID-19 outbreak that began at a North Carolina church has now been linked to 12 deaths and more than 200 cases.

United House of Prayer for All People, in Charlotte, held large gatherings over a week in early October without enforcing proper coronavirus safety precautions, like mask wearing and social distancing. In the month and a half since, cases linked back to the church have steadily increased, hitting 213 as of Nov. 19, and deaths are now up to 12.

The cases span four different counties with significant community spread, and health officials said that the majority of cases are in people who did not visit the church. An outbreak at a nearby nursing home, Madison Saints Paradise South Senior Living, has been traced back to the church. Two nursing home residents have died due to the outbreak and 19 others have tested positive for COVID-19.

“Most of our cases are secondary transmission at this point,” said Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris, according to WBTV.

People from all over the U.S. — including California, the District of Columbia, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina — attended the church events, and the county health department has warned their counterparts in those states to prepare for possible cases from United House of Prayer.

Harris initially shut down all in-person gatherings at United House of Prayer in response to the outbreak, but later adjusted their restrictions after the church agreed to regular health inspections and to limit the amount of people allowed inside. Church leaders thanked the county for reconsidering, and said that they were “excited and thankful to be able worship the Lord and do so together,” according to the Charlotte Observer.

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The church outbreak continues to grow amid last week's decision from the Supreme Court in favor of religious organizations in New York who said that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus restrictions limiting the number of worshipers were “far more severe” than in other states.

The 5-4 ruling, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett casting the deciding vote, sided in favor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America, which said that Cuomo’s restrictions violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

The restrictions, which limited the number of worshipers based on a neighborhood’s rate of COVID-19 infections, are "far more restrictive than any COVID-related regulations that have previously come before the court, much tighter than those adopted by many other jurisdictions hard hit by the pandemic, and far more severe than has been shown to be required to prevent the spread of the virus," the majority wrote in their opinion. Lower courts had previously agreed with Cuomo.

Several significant COVID-19 outbreaks have been traced back to religious services, including one at a Maine church and another in Alabama.

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