Coronavirus strikes pastor, wife and over 30 others at Ark. church

Pastor Mark Palenske and his wife Dena.
Pastor Mark Palenske and his wife Dena. | Facebook/Mark Palenske

An Arkansas pastor who was recently struck with the deadly coronavirus along with his wife, Dena, and more than 30 others connected to his church is now warning others not to underestimate how dangerous the virus is and treat it with “wisdom and restraint.”

“There was very little in my training for the ministry that covered the full measure of what our church family has dealt with in the past few weeks,” pastor Mark Palenske of Greers Ferry First Assembly in Cleburne County said in a statement on Facebook Sunday.

“The intensity of this virus has been underestimated by so many, and I continue to ask that each of you take it very seriously. An act of wisdom and restraint on your part can be the blessing that preserves the health of someone else.”

The church didn’t immediately respond to calls from The Christian Post for comment, but Donald Shipp, a deacon of the church, told The Arkansas Democrat Gazette on Monday that at least 34 people connected with the church have tested positive for the virus and several others are still awaiting results. All of them attended a children’s event held at the church from March 5-8.

Of those who tested positive for the virus, 31 are on staff at the church or are members, Shipp said. The others are two evangelists who led the children’s event and a child who was visiting.

As of Tuesday, Arkansas had 218 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. The state also confirmed a 91-year-old man as their first death from the disease.

Palenske warned on his Facebook page that the virus is “highly contagious” and his wife got so sick she had to be hospitalized along with several other members of their church.

Greers Ferry First Assembly in Arkansas.
Greers Ferry First Assembly in Arkansas. | Facebook/Greers Ferry First Assembly

“First of all, we cannot pinpoint where the virus came from. Even though we were the original positives, there are people who have been sick longer than we have. It clearly made its way through a special weekend of children’s ministry at our church. Even before positive results were returned, we had already followed medical advice and canceled services,” he said.

“We were convinced that whether it was COVID-19 or another virus, we assumed that no one wanted what we were dealing with and sought to confine ourselves. I need to let you know that we did not travel out of the state of Arkansas. This virus is highly contagious and it is no respecter of persons.

He continued: "It seemingly picks its victim at random, so it’s best to remain very vigilant in hygiene protocols to the very best of your abilities. I would request that you spend some time in prayer for our medical personnel. They are dealing with hourly changes and yesterday’s plans are obviously not suitable for the circumstances. They are trying their very best and we are indebted to their diligence and their compassionate service,” he said.

Palenske explained that he and his church got access to testing for the coronavirus thanks to a local doctor who had “a very small number of commercial tests.”

“Our symptoms began with a headache followed by intense body aches and lethargy. Beyond that we have had to deal with waves of chills, sweating and nausea. Dena had a very scary morning a few days ago, which included a seizure of sorts and required hospitalization. … She is much better and we are both back at our house,” he said.

He further noted that one of the key things that factored into their recovery was to stay hydrated.

“It sounds so simple but it takes great focus as you deal with the above symptoms. Tylenol has been a great friend during all of this and doctors have advised against ibuprofen or Motrin,” he said.

Palenske noted that while some people might not take the social distancing advice seriously, for the sake of others they should try to practice it to keep infections low.

“I would love to have you take this medical threat more seriously. Maybe you assumed that it couldn’t happen to you, just like I did. Please adhere to the social instructions that you are receiving locally and nationally. We must keep the affected population to as low a number as possible. Our singular act of stubborn independence can have far reaching effects on someone else’s life,” he said. “Respect and compassion for the people around us must dominate our self-discipline.”

Over 49,700 people in the U.S. are now infected with the new coronavirus and 600 have died as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins. Nearly 407,400 cases have been reported globally and more than 18,200 people have died.

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