Friday, April 03, 2020

Rural churches in Georgia, Kentucky and Washington state are reeling after gatherings spread the coronavirus

Rural churches in Georgia and Kentucky are dealing with guilt and regret after recent gatherings spread the coronavirus, sometimes fatally.

In Albany, Georgia, the Feb. 29 funeral of retired janitor Andrew Jerome Mitchell at M.L. King Memorial Chapel attracted more than 200 mourners. In the weeks afterward, about two dozen of Mitchell's friends and relatives fell ill, and the rural county now has one of the "most intense" clusters of covid-19 in the nation. "With a population of only 90,000, Dougherty County has registered 24 deaths, far more than any other county in the state, with six more possible coronavirus deaths under investigation," according to the local coroner, Ellen Barry reports for The New York Times.

Star of Bethlehem Church (Herald-Leader photo by Bill Estep)
In Dawson Springs, Kentucky, it was a revival March 14-15 at the Star of Bethlehem Church that did it, leading to more than two dozen cases and two deaths, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Gov. Andy Beshear used the incident as an example of how gatherings can spread the disease, but didn't name the church.

And weeks after a March 10 choir practice at a church in Skagit County, Washington, 45 of the 60 singers have been diagnosed with covid-19, at least three have been hospitalized, and two are dead, Richard Read reports for the Los Angeles Times. Increasing evidence suggests that covid-19 can be transmitted through aerosols, rather than just droplets.

Church gatherings, which usually include singing, are dangerous during a pandemic, said a retired physician in rural Kentucky who heads an infection-control group. "There is probably no better way to aerosolize the virus than singing," Kevin Kavanagh told The Rural Blog, noting the incident in Washington. "Close contact, indoor closed quarters plus singing is a set up for a disaster,"  Kavanagh is a retired physician in Somerset and chair of Health Watch USA.

Some local church leaders in Albany and Dawson Springs told reporters that churches were being unfairly singled out, and said no one intended to spread the virus. Estep notes, "In recent weeks, after Beshear asked churches not to gather, services in other Kentucky counties have led to potential exposure to the novel coronavirus for dozens of people, including services in Pulaski and Calloway counties."

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