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2 COVID-19 outbreaks in Wyoming tied to churches: gov’t

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Unsplash/Debby Hudson

A county in Wyoming is experiencing two outbreaks of COVID-19 that have been tied to two local congregations, according to government officials.

Fremont County spokesman Michael Jones told the Casper Star-Tribune on Monday about the two outbreaks, one of which reportedly happened at a church camp.

The first outbreak was responsible for as many as 30 coronavirus cases and has died down, while the second outbreak remains ongoing. Jones did not name the churches.

Jones told the Star-Tribune that it was part of an overall rise in cases in Fremont County, with the government official blaming social gatherings for the increase.

“We’re definitely hitting some spikes and it’s all these social gatherings,” he explained. “You hate to say churches, but it is family and social gatherings where people are inside and let their guard down.”

Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti labeled the outbreaks “significant” and explained that social distancing guidelines were not being followed at one of the churches.

“What I can say is that I know that there is an ongoing outbreak connected to at least one church in Lander that had a series of services,” said Deti to the Star-Tribune.

“… it’s our understanding that recommendations we’ve made about face coverings and physical distancing were not followed at the event. Churches are exempt from the public health orders, but recommendations still apply.”

Fremont County has had 506 confirmed COVID-19 cases since March, while Wyoming as a whole has had 3,068 confirmed cases since Monday, according to the Associated Press.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the vast majority of churches in the United States opted to end in-person worship earlier this year, switching over to exclusively online services.

As a large social gathering, churches holding indoor worship and not strictly following social distancing guidelines are seen by many as an especial risk for spreading COVID-19.

Westmore Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee, experienced an outbreak of coronavirus cases after returning to indoor worship in June.

Westmore Pastor Kelvin Page posted a video message to Facebook in July apologizing for the outbreak, saying that he should have taken the issue of face masks more seriously.

“The thing I most did not give attention to, and I have to say this, was masks. I’ll have to say today that masks must be considered by everyone, but especially those that are vulnerable,” said Page at the time.

“Perhaps when we all wear masks, the vulnerable are less likely to be vulnerable. So that is something that we have got to really take seriously.”

Some megachurches, among them North Point Community Church of Atlanta, Georgia, have opted to suspend in-person services for the remainder of the calendar year.

North Point Pastor Andy Stanley announced the decision in July, going against an earlier plan to hopefully return to in-person worship on Aug. 9.

“In fact, back in May when we announced a possible August 9 reopening, the COVID numbers were actually moving in the right direction. That has changed. Consequently we cannot guarantee your safety and that’s a big part of this decision,” said Stanley at the time.

“Even if we did reopen, we certainly would not be able to create a quality adult or children’s worship experience with social distancing protocols in place.”

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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