A North Carolina church gathered congregants for a musical Christmas celebration earlier this month, and within a matter of days, at least 75 COVID-19 infections had been traced back to the event.
The Henderson County Health Department has linked a growing number of cases of the respiratory infection to one caroling event held at First Baptist Church of Hendersonville. The agency identified a holiday celebration held Dec. 5 at First Baptist as a superspreader event in a press release: “To date, the Health Department has identified 75 individuals who have tested positive as a result of the event.”
It was not immediately clear how many of those who tested positive were actually in attendance at the event.
The church’s white classical facade and white steeple lean over the street, the tallest building in sight in the town of 14,000. Inside, vaulting ceilings echo with song. Too many songs, according to the public health department.
The impact of the event was immediately visible on the church’s Facebook page, where upbeat posts about the holidays and upcoming events quickly gave way to last-minute event cancellations and “special announcements” from the pastors about new COVID-19 cases among congregants. Senior Pastor Steve Scoggins, the grandfatherly head of the church, promised in a sermon to post video of the holiday musical celebration on the church’s Facebook page, but no such video was found on there following news of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The holiday musical wasn’t the only church event that eschewed social distancing. First Baptist has held in-person services and events throughout the pandemic, even inviting other churches’ congregations to its services and vice versa, according to its Facebook posts. Scoggins delivered the keynote address at North Carolina Baptist Convention on Nov. 10, which drew 500 attendees, per the convention’s own website.
The Asheville Citizen Times reports that several people who attended the Christmas event said many attendees were not donning masks, and members of the choir stood shoulder to shoulder as they belted out songs without face coverings.