Close to three dozen people who attended a children’s event at an Arkansas church earlier this month have now tested positive for coronavirus, church officials said this week.
As NBC News reported, 34 people who attended a weekend-long event at First Assembly Church of God in Greers Ferry have contracted the virus, with many others still waiting for results of testing. Officials in Arkansas had already said that a number of coronavirus cases had been connected to a church, but did not identify exactly which one.
Mark Palenske, a pastor at the church, told followers in a Facebook post that he and his wife were among those who tested positive. He wrote that they were unable to determine where the virus originated from, as some people who attended the event have been sick for longer than others.
Though there have been a number of stories of organizations disregarding social distancing guidelines, including churches that refused to stop holding in-person services, Palenske said that was not the case with his church. The event connected to the outbreak was held during the first week in March, before the virus started to spread rapidly through the U.S. and states began to issue more stringent rules against public gatherings.
Palenske said that since then, the church has shut down all services and gatherings. He warned people to take the virus seriously and follow protocols put out by health experts.
“Even before positive results were returned, we had already followed medical advice and canceled services,” he wrote on Facebook. “We were convinced that whether it was Covid-19 or another virus, we assumed that no one wanted what we were dealing with and sought to confine ourselves. I need to let you know that We did not travel out of the state of Arkansas. This virus is highly contagious and it is no respecter of persons. It seemingly picks its victim at random, so it’s best to remain very vigilant in hygiene protocols to the very best of your abilities.”
While the coronavirus first began spreading rapidly in Washington state and New York City, which has since become the epicenter, recent reports indicate it is starting to spread more rapidly in the south and hospital systems there are starting to become overwhelmed with patients. Some of the outbreaks have been connected to large social gatherings, including college students who traveled to Florida and other coastal areas for pre-planned spring break trips.