North Carolina Church's Christmas Musical Results in 75 COVID Cases

A crowded holiday event held at a Hendersonville, North Carolina, church was the source of at least 75 COVID-19 cases, according to the Henderson County Health Department.

The event, which took place at First Baptist Church over the December 5 weekend, involved a crowd of maskless churchgoers and choir members, who were singing shoulder-to-shoulder without masks, reports the Asheville Citizen Times.

"To date, the Health Department has identified 75 individuals who have tested positive as a result of the event," read the health department's press release on Thursday. "The Health Department is working to identify any additional close contacts of these individuals."

The department considered the event a "COVID-19 cluster" in a non-congregate living setting, which the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services defines as a minimum of five cases with illness onsets or initial positive results within a 14-day period and plausible epidemiologic linkage between cases.

The statement notes an increase in COVID-19 cases caused by social gatherings such as parties and family and neighborhood gatherings. It urges Henderson County residents to follow the "3Ws": Wear a face covering, Wait six feet apart and Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.

A church in North Carolina 2018
A church seen under storm clouds in Lealand, North Carolina on September 13, 2018. Nearly 100 COVID-19 cases have been linked to convocation events held earlier this month by the United House of Prayer for All People in Charlotte, North Carolina. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

New COVID-19 cases are on the rise in North Carolina. The state health department reported 5,786 new cases on Thursday, up from the 5,273 reported the day before. According to a data tracking map from the Harvard Global Health Institute, all but three of the 100 counties in the state are at a "critical" level, or red zone, ahead of Christmas. The risk levels are calculated based on daily cases per 100,000 population.

The state also saw record highs in COVID hospitalizations for the past week, with a new record set Wednesday after at least 2,804 people were reported as currently hospitalized. The spike in hospitalizations has caused ICU bed capacities to plummet statewide, with 425 available as of Wednesday, sounding alarms from state health officials. Last week, hospitals in the state's largest metro cities, including Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro, were at more than 80 percent capacity, according to the New York Times.

Henderson County has over 4,000 total COVID-19 cases and 88 deaths as of Friday.

In a statement following the spike in cases, First Baptist Senior Pastor Steve Scoggins and Chairman of Deacons Robert Bridges announced that church services and ministry activities will be suspended for 30 days.

"With a strong sense of unity, our ministers and deacons have decided to put our church on a thirty-day pause in regard to on-site worship," the statement read. "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. We will look at conditions in mid-January to see how and when we should move forward."

"Our hearts and our prayers go out to all who are dealing with the effects of this virus," the statement continues. "We have tried to call and pray with many in our church who were given positive diagnoses this week. We want to do everything we can to help those who are in need."

Newsweek reached out to First Baptist Church for further comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.