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19 May 2020 22:37

Arkansas Razorbacks football Texas A&M University Kellen Mond

CDC tracks cluster of coronavirus cases in rural Arkansas to church, raising alarm on religious gatherings

(Reuters) - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday reported 1,504,830 cases of the new coronavirus, an increase of 24,481 cases from its previous count, and said that the number of deaths had risen by 933 to 90,340. The CDC reported its tally of cases of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, caused by the new coronavirus, as of 4 pm ET on May 18, compared with its count a day earlier. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked a cluster of coronavirus cases in rural Arkansas back to a church pastor and his wife, indicating that faith-based organizations and events could be sources of Covid-19 transmission, according to a new study published Tuesday. "This outbreak highlights the potential for widespread transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, both at group gatherings during church events and within the broader community," the researchers wrote. "Faith-based organizations that are operating or planning to resume in-person operations, including regular services, funerals, or other events, should be aware of the potential for high rates of transmission of SARS-CoV-2." At the Arkansas church, the pastor and his wife were the first two confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the county of about 25,000, the CDC says.

The investigation traced the two infections to a three-day children's event held at the church between March 6 and March 8 and a Bible study group held on March 11. The CDC didn't identify the church, but the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported March 23 that 34 members of the First Assemblies of God Church in Greers Ferry who attended a children's event there tested positive for the virus. The CDC study said 92 attendees were contacted by health officials. Spread of the virus within this event also leaked into the broader community, the CDC researchers said. At least 26 people who reported contact with attendees of the church tested positive for Covid-19 and one of them died, the researchers said.

"These organizations should work with local health officials to determine how to implement the U.S. Government's guidelines for modifying activities during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent transmission of the virus to their members and their communities." COVID-19 spread silently through a rural Arkansas church in March, CDC says Two people infected with COVID-19 spread the virus to more than 30 people during church gatherings in Arkansas in early March, before the first case was ever diagnosed in that state, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Tuesday. The cases illustrate how rapidly the virus can spread to others involved in faith-based organizations, and may have implications for places of worship as churches nationwide figure out how to reopen safely. Qatar Airways Qatar Airways announced new measures to keep passengers and crew safe while flying during the COVID-19 pandemic. "At Qatar Airways, we have introduced these additional safety measures onboard our flights to ensure the continued health and wellbeing of our passengers and cabin crew, and to limit the spread of coronavirus," Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker in the news release. Boston will follow on June 1 due to the number of people who work in the city, Mayor Marty Walsh said at a Tuesday news briefing.

In Illinois' Cook County, there are about 30 contact tracers for the 2.5 million people who live outside of Chicago — far fewer than the 750 that officials are hoping for should funding become available in the next couple of weeks. As public health officials point to contact tracing as a key component for tracking the spread of the coronavirus and preventing a flare-up of cases amid the wave of reopenings, some agencies are wrestling with a lack of necessary resources from the federal government, a need for more qualified workers and a growing backlash of misinformation. Memorial Day ceremonies in New York will be no more than 10 people, Cuomo says Cuomo on Memorial Day gatherings: 'We want to honor our veterans' May 19, 2020 01:15 New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he thinks it's important the state honor veterans for Memorial Day, but wants to do so in a safe way. The governor said he is going to allow ceremonies of no more than 10 people and hopes the events will be broadcast on television so residents can watch safely at home. Thirty-eight percent of people who attended events at an Arkansas church over a six-day period in March contracted COVID-19, according to a report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Of the 92 people who attended events at a rural Arkansas church between March 6 and March 11, 35 contracted COVID-19, and three died, the CDC said. An additional 26 cases, including one death, were confirmed among community members who said they had contact with church attendees. The new report highlights the potential for widespread transmission at public gatherings in enclosed spaces and within communities, its authors wrote. "Faith-based organizations that are operating or planning to resume in-person operations, including regular services, funerals or other events, should be aware of the potential for high rates of transmission of [COVID-19]," they added. The pastor of the church, which was not named, closed it indefinitely on March 12 after he and his wife developed a fever and a cough, and learned of similar symptoms among members of the congregation.

The CDC report indicates the pastor and his wife were likely infected by COVID-19 while attending church events the previous week, including one for children that spanned three days. The pastor might have exposed others to the virus during a Bible study event held March 11, according to the report. The pastor was not showing COVID-19 symptoms when he attended the Bible study, according to the report. As states decide how and when to reopen churches amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, a new federal report analyzing a cluster in Arkansas shows how easily the virus can spread in faith communities—even when they take precautions. The analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) details how one couple—a pastor at a local church and his wife—contracted the virus and unwittingly may have helped spread it to 26 others, which ballooned into a cluster of 61, of which four people died. The analysis mirrors past reports detailing—with painful precision—how just one case of COVID-19 can quickly spread within communities or cities, like at a funeral and birthday party in Chicago. But this latest report comes as states and localities move to reopen from COVID-19 lockdown—and served as a stark warning amid a rush to fashion rules and regulations for large gatherings. Before the Arkansas couple developed respiratory symptoms and fever, the 57-year-old pastor attended a Bible study group on March 11 at his church. During subsequent contact tracing, local and federal public health authorities determined that dozens of others were likely infected by the pair, highlighting "the potential for widespread transmission" of the virus "both at group gatherings during church events and within the broader community," according to the report. On March 12, after learning that members of their congregation had developed symptoms, the pastor and his 56-year-old spouse closed the church "indefinitely." They were the first two confirmed cases of the virus in the county, the report states. (Tension between the ultra Orthodox community and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has escalated amid reports of well-attended funerals and school sessions in recent weeks.) "There are people whose entire lives center around going to a mega church every Sunday," said Redlener. But the Arkansas case is perhaps more concerning because the church closed indefinitely as soon as the pastor and his wife learned that congregants had developed symptoms. Of the total of 35 cases related to the church through April 22, the investigation by the Arkansas Department of Health identified the pastor and his wife as the index cases. But another two people who were symptomatic on earlier dates were found to be the "primary cases… because they likely initiated the chain of transmission among church attendees." Those two people lived locally, reported no travel or contact with any confirmed cases, and were linked only through the church. "Although no previous cases had been reported from this county, undetected low-level community transmission was likely, and some patients in this cluster might have had exposures outside the church," according to the CDC report. Of this group of 94 church event attendees, 92 were contacted, and 38 percent of that group contracted the virus. But those 35 people appeared to spread the virus to another 26, including one person who died, leading to a total of 61 confirmed cases either directly or indirectly associated with the church. In New York at least, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said that churches will be among the last spaces to reopen.