More Than 650 Coronavirus Cases Linked to Nearly 40 U.S. Churches, Religious Gatherings

Over 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 religious gatherings across the country, many over the last month, according to a New York Times database.

Most of those confirmed cases came from an outbreak at a church in Union County, Oregon. Lighthouse Pentecostal Church opened its doors May 24 in a county that has 361 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus to date, many of which were traced back to the church.

Tom Jeanne, the deputy state epidemiologist, told Oregon Live in a June 17 interview when 236 cases were linked back to the Union County church that it was "the largest single outbreak of COVID-19 in Oregon to date."

Health officials also stated Lighthouse Pentecostal Church was "very responsive and is taking appropriate steps to ensure the health and safety of their congregation" following reports of the outbreak. Union County is currently in Phase 2 of Governor Kate Brown's phased reopening approach.

Newsweek reached out to the church for comment, but they did not respond in time for publication.

More than 80 cases have been linked to a Christian youth camp that operates out of Missouri. The Stone County Health Department announced Kanakuk Kamps shut down one of its eight camps Monday after 41 people who attended the Kanakuk K-2 Camp tested positive for COVID-19. The camp usually operates for campers ages 13 to 18 in either two-week or four-week sessions.

"Kanakuk is working with SCHD and made the decision to shut down the K-2 camp for this term after being alerted to the suspected outbreak. The decision to close has resulted in all campers, counselors and staff to return to their homes," county health officials said. There are currently 82 cases linked to this camp, according to the Kansas City Star.

President Donald Trump announced in a press conference May 22 that houses of worship should be deemed essential, highlighting the fact that "liquor stores and abortion clinics" had been deemed essentials by governors across the country.

"Today I am identifying houses of worship – churches, synagogues, and mosques – as essential places that provide essential services. Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship. That's not right, so I'm correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential," Trump said at the time.

Many churches fought back against state governments that limited their capacity to practice their religion while also explicitly supporting protesters who gathered in large numbers against police brutality.

In New York, a Federal Judge Gary Sharpe ruled the state could not limit outdoor religious gatherings while still allowing protests, citing June 1 remarks from Governor Andrew Cuomo where he stated, "I think you can protest, but do it smartly and intelligently." Sharpe also cited comments by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio who said June 2 that the pain and anger of "the devout religious person" was not the same as that of protesters.

"They could have...been silent. But by acting as they did, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio sent a clear message that mass protests are deserving of preferential treatment," Sharpe said

Sharpe ordered that Cuomo could no longer enforce "any limitation for outdoor gatherings provided that participants in such gatherings follow social distancing requirements."

Church Closed
Church closing due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic on March 18, 2020 in New York City. Over 650 cases have been linked to 40 religious gatherings in the U.S., most of which were reported in the last month. Bill Tompkins/Getty