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Health

Coronavirus Cases Linked To Charlotte Church Rise To 143

United House of Prayer for All People
David Boraks
/
WFAE
One of the Charlotte-area locations of United House of Prayer for All People.

Earlier this month, as many as 1,000 people attended a multi-day event at a United House of Prayer for All People location in Charlotte. Now there are at least 143 coronavirus cases and five deaths linked to that event, according to numbers released by the Mecklenburg County Health Department on Monday. Health officials said there are also potential cases in five other states—California, Georgia, New Jersey, New York and South Carolina— and the District of Columbia.

On Saturday, the health department cracked down. It ordered the church to close all of its facilities in Mecklenburg County just ahead of a six-day revival that was set to begin Sunday. The order said, among other things, that the church didn’t take necessary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and “failed to or refused to respond to” health department requests.

The county’s order lasts until at least November 5.

As of Monday evening, the United House of Prayer had not responded to WFAE’s multiple phone calls and voicemails to numbers at nine locations but it appears the church is complying. On Sunday, WFAE visited several of its locations and saw between three and 12 cars in each parking lot. The church is also known for running a cafeteria that serves lunch on weekdays.

“The cafeteria is temporarily closed until Monday, Nov. 2, 2020,” said the voicemail recording at one church location on Monday.

Across North Carolina, at least 1,180 coronavirus cases and 18 deaths have been linked to religious gatherings since March, according to state numbers updated on Monday.

Many Charlotte-area faith groups say they are taking precautions to try to avoid a situation like the one at United House of Prayer.

“There’ll be a lot of distancing. Masks are required,” said Donna Gray, office manager at The Vine United Methodist Church in Plaza Midwood.

The church is holding its first inside services in about eight months on Sunday. Gray said The Vine will only allow about 25 people on Sunday and is offering an additional service on Tuesday to spread out attendees. Large sections of pews will be roped off. There will be music but no singing along.

“The experts say that singing can really spread a lot of bodily fluid,” Gray said.

Each church attendee will use a clean pen to sign in on a sheet of paper and then drop that pen in a “dirty pen” basket so no one else uses it. The sign-in list is designed to help health officials with contact tracing in case someone gets sick, Gray said.

The Vine has hosted some outdoor services but Gray said she’s kind of nervous to be inside for the first time.

“We’ve also been aware that it could even change between now and Sunday because cases are going up so much. The governor could change things,” she said.

“I don’t encourage masses of people--for worship or for any events at this moment--to gather and leave opportunities for coronavirus to affect and kill the people,” said Israel Gebreegziabhar, the pastor at Charlotte’s Ethiopian Evangelical Church.

Gebreegziabhar’s 30-member church has been all-virtual since March. He said that he’s considering moving to in-person worship but that “safety has to be first.”