Multiple COVID-19 outbreaks connected to church events have been reported nationwide as the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread in the U.S.
Health officials in Kentucky, Illinois, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arizona, Georgia and Texas have connected COVID-19 outbreaks to church camps.
Kentucky: In June, eight teenagers in Hopkins County, Kentucky, tested positive for COVID-19 following a church camp trip. Several more quarantined, and local health officials estimated 60 to 100 people were exposed.
Denise Beach, director of the Hopkins County Health Department, noted that masks are still strongly recommended on buses to protect riders against the coronavirus.
Illinois: At least 85 COVID-19 cases were reported among children and adults who attended Crossing Camp, located southwest of Peoria, between June 13 and 17.
The Peoria Journal Star reported that one person was hospitalized, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. State officials said only a handful of camp attendees and staff had received vaccines and masks were not required indoors.
Oklahoma: New Life Ranch, a Christian camp in Colcord, Oklahoma, canceled camps and strengthened COVID-related protocols following outbreaks of the coronavirus in early June. Many of those who got sick were fully vaccinated, according to a blog post by Tom Graney, New Life Ranch executive director.
Missouri: A church camp held June 27 through July 1 in Morgan County, Missouri, was the origin of more than 40 COVID-19 cases in Jackson County, Missouri, according to local news reports. The camp included young people from several different church congregations in the region and was organized by the Southern Missouri Youth Ministries, based in Springfield, Missouri. Some 200-300 kids attended the camp, officials estimated.
Ray Dlugolecki, Jackson County assistant health director, told KCTV5 that while nearly all the kids at the camp would have been eligible for a coronavirus vaccine, almost none of the infected kids had received one. The camp’s website noted COVID-19 precautions in place, including health screenings in advance of attending and temperature checks prior to the start of camp. Masks were encouraged but not required during the week. Camp officials said there were no reports of symptoms in attendees during the week, but cases began to surface after campers returned home.
Arizona: A VBS-related church trip in the Phoenix, Arizona, area has been linked to 16 cases of COVID-19 and two deaths, according to a report on the Gaydos and Chad Show on Glendale-based KTAR radio. Co-host Larry Gaydos said an adult who went on the trip had COVID-19. Sixteen other adults were working at the nondenominational church camp, all of whom also got COVID-19. Two died, and several are very sick, he said, adding that none of the adults were vaccinated.
Gaydos’ mother died of COVID-19 in April 2020.
“I say this all the time to my Christian brothers and sisters. We’re scaring people away from church. We are not taking care of ourselves, we’re not taking care of our neighbors. … I don’t understand the attitude among my fellow Christians,” Gaydos said.
Georgia: First Baptist Church, Bainbridge, Georgia, canceled Wednesday evening services on July 7 and scaled back Sunday services for July 11 to one worship service after a student tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning home from youth camp. In a Facebook post, the church said several participants also were showing symptoms, and many others in the church body have had “extended exposure.”
“If we hear of no new cases, we hope to be back to regular schedule by Wednesday, July 14,” the post said. “Thank you for your patience and understanding as we strive to keep our church family safe.”
Texas: Nearly 150 people tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a camp hosted by Clear Creek Community Church, an interdenominational congregation in League City, a suburb of Houston.
At least 57 people tested positive and 90 others self-reported positive tests, according to the Houston Chronicle. About 450 people attended the camp held about 55 miles east of Austin at Camp Tejas in Giddings, Texas. Galveston health authorities learned of the first infection on June 27, three days into the camp. Campers rode together on buses, and social media posts showed few wore masks, according to the Chronicle.
Galveston County Health Authority Philip Keiser said many of the cases are from the Delta variant, a highly contagious strain of the coronavirus that is rapidly spreading in the U.S.
Delta variant increasing
Health officials across the U.S. are warning about Delta, which was first identified in India in December. The variant led to high numbers of infections and deaths in India and Great Britain. The first Delta case in the United States was diagnosed in March, and it is now the dominant strain in the U.S., according to Yale Medicine.
Current vaccinations appear to be effective against Delta, which in some studies was shown to be twice as likely as the original coronavirus strain to result in hospitalizations in unvaccinated individuals. Those who are vaccinated against the coronavirus appear to be protected from Delta, but anyone who is unvaccinated and not practicing preventive strategies is at risk for infection by the new variant, Yale Medicine says.
The CDC has not released new guidance on church gatherings, though its advice for large gatherings remains in place:
- Wear a mask.
- Stay at least 6 feet away from people who do not live with you.
- Choose safer outdoor venues if possible.
- Avoid crowded, poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
- Wash your hands.
- Avoid touching your mask, eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Get vaccinated.