A Georgia church that reopened after shutting down due to the coronavirus has axed in-person services again in what they describe as “an effort of extreme caution” as several of their families have become infected by the deadly disease.
Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle, an independent Baptist church led by Pastor Justin Gazaway in Ringgold, Georgia, restarted in-person services on April 26. Church representative Joan Lewis told The Christian Post on Monday, however, that they decided to suspend “in-person worship services for the foreseeable future” on May 11 after learning several families had contracted the virus.
“Our hearts are heavy as some of our families are dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 virus, and we ask for your prayers for each of them as they follow the prescribed protocol and recuperate at home,” the church said in a formal statement.
“Though we feel very confident of the safe environment we are able to offer in our facilities, the decision was made … that we would discontinue all in-person services again until further notice in an effort of extreme caution for the safety and well-being of our families.”
The church did not say how many of their families were affected but noted that only about 25% of congregants had participated in in-person worship services during the time they had reopened.
“Based on the current data that was shared and the low volume of cases in our area at the time, and in an effort to offer our families both options of either attending in-person services or streaming online, we resumed services in the Tabernacle a couple of weeks ago. While approximately a fourth of our congregation chose to attend the in-person services, our other families chose to remain at home and continue enjoying our streaming services,” the church said.
During that time, officials noted that “all modes of social distancing were practiced and followed by the families attending.”
“Seating was marked to only permit sitting within the six foot guidelines, all doors were open to allow access without the touching of doors, and attendees were asked to enter in a social distancing manner and were dismissed in a formal manner as well to ensure that the social distancing measures were adhered by all,” the church said.
Pastor Gazaway, who has served as the church’s third pastor since October 2016, did not immediately respond to further questions from CP.
On April 20, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced plans to begin reopening some businesses across the state starting April 24 with specific guidelines. Among the businesses that began reopening on April 24 were fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barber shops, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, their respective schools and massage therapists.
The Georgia governor’s office further noted that minimum basic operations include but are not limited to screening workers for fever and respiratory illness, enhancing workplace sanitation, wearing masks and gloves, separating workplaces by six feet, teleworking if possible and staggered shifts.
Theaters, private social clubs and dine-in services at restaurants were allowed to reopen on April 27 with specific social distancing guidelines and sanitation mandates.
In a recent report, Johns Hopkins noted to CNN that while the state hasn't seen a spike in coronavirus cases, there also hasn't been a significant decrease in new case counts. New cases have reportedly been “trending unsteadily downward.” There are currently 39,910 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 1,612 related deaths, according to state data.
Officials like Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms continues to urge caution.
"It's something that we should continue to be mindful of and continue to be thoughtful about as the state has reopened and people are going about their day-to-day business," she told the Atlanta City Council during a phone briefing Thursday.