All United House Of Prayer Sites In County Ordered Closed Over 'Grave' Concerns Of COVID-19 Outbreak
All United House of Prayer for All People sites in Mecklenburg County were ordered to close Saturday as COVID-19 cases connected to church events earlier this month continued to increase and county officials were concerned about a weeklong revival scheduled to begin Sunday.
County Health Director Gibbie Harris issued an order of abatement of imminent hazard that went into effect Saturday at 10 a.m. and lasts until at least Nov. 6, halting all gatherings at each of the churches in the county.
Thus far, at least 121 COVID-19 cases and three deaths have been connected to convocation events Oct. 4-11 at the Beatties Ford Road church. One other death is under investigation. Additionally, seven people have been hospitalized with the coronavirus, and at least 16 cases involve residents of senior living facilities, with 12 at Madison Saints Paradise South.
Cases have now also been identified in Iredell (two) and Cabarrus (one) counties.
United House of Prayer for All People has not responded to multiple attempts from WFAE for comment. A national website for the church reminds near its service times, "Please observe social distancing, mask wearing, sanitizing and all other health and safety rules."
Harris said it is just the third abatement of imminent hazard she has issued in more than 30 years in public health.
“It has to be a grave and/or severe threat to public health before we utilize it,” Harris said in a virtual press conference Saturday. “It’s not used lightly.”
The order comes after both Harris and Mecklenburg County manager Dena Diorio said multiple attempts have made to work with church leadership to set up testing and ensure that a revival scheduled nightly from Sunday to Oct. 31 would be rescheduled or canceled.
“All of those conversations have been reasonable, but very noncommittal,” Harris said. “And basically what we’ve been told is that they have it under control.”
The church has not yet responded to the order.
Diorio said that if the church does attempt to hold services, the county would get a temporary restraining order.
"We just want to make sure the public is aware that if, in fact, they don’t comply that people really should not attend," she said, "because it is not safe."
There have been 76 COVID-19 clusters associated with religious gatherings in North Carolina, accounting for 1,040 cases of coronavirus and 13 deaths, according to the most recent data released Monday by the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Mecklenburg County's test positivity rate increased to 6.3% in the past week, according to data released by the county Friday, an increase from 5.1% one week earlier.
“We’ve already had 121 cases. We know that without some significant intervention, we will continue to see that increase,” Harris said. “And we are already seeing our numbers go up in Mecklenburg County. So it seemed at this point, this was a logical next step considering the fact that we have not had good luck with working with the church at this point in time.”
Mecklenburg County offered free testing for anyone connected to the church on Thursday and Friday; results are expected Sunday.
A spokesman for neighboring Gaston County, which also has a United House of Prayer for All People church, said there are no plans to enact a similar order but that, "We're definitely going to keep an eye on any situation that has the potential to negatively affect the health and well being of Gaston County residents."
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