Pastor Selling 'Virus Proof' Shirts Holds Week-Long Mass Gathering At Church

A controversial pastor who sells T-shirts claiming his church is "Virus proof" has been criticized after holding a week-long convocation which health officials in North Carolina fear could become a coronavirus super-spreader event.

Brian Carn, a senior pastor at the Kingdom City Church—which has campuses in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jacksonville, Florida, and Houston, Texas—is hosting a gathering this week despite being warned about the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Gibbie Harris, Mecklenburg County health director, told local media that she "spent the week before this event having multiple conversations with the pastor of the church" about concerns around COVID and the need for social distancing.

WCNC, an NBC-affiliated television station in Charlotte, reported Harris as saying that Carn did not believe those attending the church's 3rd Holy Convocation, titled "The Giants are Coming," would be at a heightened risk as his "congregation is younger." The event runs from November 9 through November 15.

Carn has previously caught the attention of officials in the county over his response to the pandemic.

He is accused of telling churchgoers that God would shield them from the virus and earlier this year claimed to have had COVID-19 while delivering a sermon, before retracting the statement.

"I don't have, nor have I ever had COVID-19," he later said. "It cannot touch me."

According to WCNC, health officials provided the church with hundreds of face masks as well as signs encouraging social distancing.

But Carn vowed to go ahead with the event despite calls for it to be postponed on public health grounds, with officials repeatedly warning that a current spike in coronavirus cases in the state was being driven by social gatherings.

"From a spiritual standpoint, he feels like he has to do things the way he's doing them in order to really be effective with his congregation," WCNC quoted Harris as saying.

The health director said there was not enough evidence to suggest the event currently posed a public hazard, meaning she was unable to shut it down.

"I've got to be able to show that there's been transmission, and I can't show that right now," Harris told WCNC. "Unfortunately, we're gonna be doing clean up as opposed to preventing."

Video footage shared by WSOC-TV showed dozens of cars parked near the venue with crowds of people, some of whom were not wearing masks, mingling outside.

The news network said cars with licence plates from neighbouring states had turned up at the event, suggesting at least some of the congregation had travelled from hundreds of miles away.

On Wednesday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) reported 3,119 COVID-19 cases—the state's highest one-day number. Hospitalizations also increased to 1,246 while the percentage of tests that were positive rose to 7.9 percent.

NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen said: "This is not the milestone we want to be hitting, particularly as we head into holidays where people want to come together. I am asking North Carolinians to do what they do best, look out for each other. Wear a mask. Wait six feet apart. Wash your hands often.

"We've had more time to learn about this devastating virus and study after study shows that these three simple actions can help keep our family, friends and neighbors from getting sick."

State health officials have also advised people to avoid travel over Thanksgiving and only gather with people in their household.

On Tuesday, Governor Roy Cooper announced that North Carolina's indoor mass gathering limit will be lowered from 25 to 10 people in an effort to drive down cases. The executive order will go into effect on November 13 and will be in place through December 4. However, the mass gathering limit does not apply to religious services.

Newsweek has contacted the Kingdom City Church and the Mecklenburg County health department for comment.

The number of Americans currently in hospital with coronavirus continues to rise—soaring past 60,000 this week—according to data compiled by The COVID Tracking Project as illustrated in the graphic below from Statista.

A graph showing U.S. Covid-19 hospitalisations from Statista. Statista