A holiday celebration at a church in a small town in North Carolina has caused 97 coronavirus cases as of December 22.
The local health department said that the number of cases is expected to increase in the next several days, Today reported.
According to a Henderson County Department of Public Health statement, the gathering took place at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville over the December 5 weekend and was a multi-day event.
Andrew Mundhenk, the communications manager for the department, said that as of December 17, the county had linked 75 cases to the event. The health department was still working to identify close contacts of church attendees.
The manager said that all of the confirmed 97 cases are people who attended the church service. However, the health department has not reported any deaths. Mundhenk said “some cases” have caused people to be hospitalized, but the health department did not release a number.
“We’re seeing more cases everyday,” Mundhenk said.
In a statement, the First Baptist Church said that it was closing its doors for a 30-day pause “in regard to on-site worship,” including “all ministry activities,” but did not specifically address the outbreak.
“The current wave of virus infection is so widespread that we must take action out of concern for the safety of our church, our community, and especially those who are most vulnerable in our midst,” the statement read. “We will look at conditions in mid-January to see how and when we should move forward.”
Today reached out to the house of worship. The church said it would release an updated statement soon but declined to inform whether the event was indoors or attendees had to wear face masks and practice social distancing.
The North Carolina Health Department confirmed Henderson County’s current limit on indoor gatherings is ten people, but this does not apply to “worship, religious, spiritual gatherings.”
“We’re just really concerned with transmission in the community overall, when people are dropping their guard down, when they’re with people close to them,” Mundhenk said.