A local church has reported that 30 cases of COVID-19 can be traced to a single service, and two other churches also have reported cases of the virus.
West Lenoir Baptist Church Pastor Rick Safriet said that several days after a service on Sept. 20, some people, including him and his wife, Kim, began having symptoms of COVID-19. Thirty people reached out to Safriet to say they were sick.
“We had a morning worship service with limited seating — no choir books, no choir, none of that. Just preaching and prayer — no passing of offering plates, no handshakes, no nothing,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been doing since May.”
There were 153 people at the indoor service, but the church has a seating capacity of 650, so families could be spaced out in the pews, Safriet said.
Nobody in the church who became sick has died. One person was taken to the hospital for dehydration but was treated and released, Safriet said.
He and his wife are recovering.
“We’re both doing fine. No taste or smell yet. My wife has some coughing. Mainly it’s just congestion, loss of taste and smell and fatigue,” he said.
Safriet said that his congregation had stopped meeting in March, but sometime in May they began meeting again. He added that he has been happy with the way that the health department has handled the outbreak.
“For what it’s worth, the Caldwell County Health Department have been super nice to me. They have treated me with dignity and respect. That’s just a message I’d like to get out. … They have just been overly gracious and worked with me, and I appreciate it, I really do,” he said.
At Cornerstone Covenant Church in Hudson, 11 people have tested positive, and Poarch Chapel Missionary Methodist Church has at least 10 people who have tested positive, said Paige Counts, the county’s public information officer. The county also reported a cluster of five cases at Moravian Prep.
Leaders with Poarch Chapel Missionary could not be reached for comment.
Pastor Fred Stapleton of Cornerstone said he knows of at least 10 positive cases, while others became sick but tested negative for the virus.
He said that people began getting sick after a week of nightly revival meetings held at the church.
“We had it for seven nights in a row. It was the last full week in September,” he said.
He said some people wore masks at the services, but not everyone.
“We leave it up to the people,” he said.
He said that church leaders have worked to sanitize the church while they were meeting, but for now they are not holding services. The cluster of cases was the first problem they had since the pandemic began, Stapleton said.
He said that one man who has other health problems has become seriously ill, “but the doctor said that he was improving a lot yesterday.”
“We have asked people, if you have underlying conditions, if you don’t feel safe, nobody is going to hold it against you if you don’t come,” he said.
He said that the church stopped having services in March but started again in May.
“We didn’t think of it as a risk. We thought we were taking all the precautions we could,” he said.
He said that his congregation has pulled together to pray for and support one another during the outbreak.
“Actually, it’s pulled our church closer together. People are praying for each other, checking on one another,” he said.
Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.