More than 180 people were potentially exposed to the coronavirus after a California church defied state lockdown orders to hold a service — and a congregant with the virus attended.
The unidentified person attended a Mother’s Day Service at Palermo Bible Family Church — and tested positive for COVID-19 the next day, according to Butte County Public Health and The Los Angeles Times.
The infected person is now in home isolation, and the other congregants were notified of their exposure and also directed to self-quarantine, according to officials.
The public health department is working to arrange testing for everyone in attendance.
Large gatherings are banned in the state, and local officials said the church puts its worshipers at risk by holding a service.
“At this time, organizations that hold in-person services or gatherings are putting the health and safety of their congregations, the general public and our local ability to open up at great risk,” Danette York, director of the department, said in statement.
“Moving too quickly through the reopening process can cause a major setback and could require us to revert back to more restrictive measures.”
In a since-deleted Facebook post, pastor Mike Jacobsen said an asymptomatic congregant attended the service and woke up the next day “needing medical attention.”
He said he would “never with knowledge put anyone in harms [sic] way.”
“For 7 weeks we have been kept out of our church and away from our church family,” he added. “I am fully aware that some people may not understand that for our church it is essential to be together in fellowship.”
When contacted by the LA Times, Jacobsen declined to immediately comment, saying he needed more time to think about it before making a statement.
In a Facebook Live Bible study last week, Jacobsen said that the church should stay open because many of its members are “young believers” in need of community.
“You wouldn’t take an infant out of the arms of their mother and expect them to survive on their own,” he said.
“We’ve really tried to raise the bar and do a good job with what we’ve been given,” the pastor said of virtual services, “but it’s not the same as being together in fellowship with one another.”
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