A new CDC report examined what happened after two seemingly-healthy people attended church events in Arkansas, and then developed COVID-19 symptoms a few days later.

35 out of 92 attendees got COVID-19, and three of them died, according to the report. There were 26 more cases and one more death from people who came into contact with church attendees.

This report adds to the growing pile of evidence on the dangers of gathering in groups during a pandemic.

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A new CDC report examines how quickly sickness spread at a rural Arkansas church, ultimately resulting in seven hospitalizations and four deaths. The report serves as more evidence of the dangers of gathering in groups in places like churches.

According to the report, a 57-year-old pastor of a local Arkansas church attended church events and a Bible study group in early March, along with his 56-year-old wife. A few days later, the two developed symptoms of  fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and became the first two officially tested cases of coronavirus in their rural county of about 25,000 residents.

35 out of 92 people they came into contact with at church events got sick, and seven had to be hospitalized. Three people died. Contact tracers from the Arkansas Department of Health then discovered 26 more cases of sickness and one other death, all from people who reported contact with the churchgoers.

“This outbreak highlights the potential for widespread transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, both at group gatherings during church events and within the broader community,” the study authors wrote. “These findings underscore the opportunity for faith-based organizations to prevent COVID-19 by following local authorities’ guidance.”

In the days the church was open, the church hosted a three-day children’s event with singing, in which all the children came into close contact with the adults, and a buffet-style meal served by church members. None of the children present got seriously ill.

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As soon as the pastor and his wife realized they were sick, in-person church activities were cancelled and the church was closed.

Previously there has been reports showing high COVID-19 attacks rates in choir practices, at nursing homes, and in hospitals, all places where groups of people gather.

Many churches are arguing that they should be re-opened

The CDC published this report against the backdrop of a larger argument, as many churches fight to re-open during COVID-19, arguing that religious services are essential.

In Oregon, 10 evangelical churches argued that the governor’s shutdown orders had expired and shouldn’t apply to them. A judge ruled in their favor, and the case is ongoing. In Chicago, hundreds defied stay-at-home orders in order to attend church services in an area that has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19.

And in New York, religious leaders have appealed to Governor Andrew Cuomo to ask if religious institutions could re-open if they practiced safe social distancing.

“It’s less about being a church, temple or mosque — it’s more about being a gathering,” Cuomo recently said. “The last thing you want is 100, 200 people in close proximity.”

Cuomo is currently meeting with Jewish community leaders to create social distancing guidelines for religious observance of the Shavuot holiday.

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