For several years, Teresa Ashby’s husband, Brent Nixon, has been a devoted member of Crossroads Community Church in Fitchburg. Even during the pandemic, he attended Sunday services in person, donning a mask and social distancing in keeping with public health advice.
But not all of the worshippers were as conscientious as Nixon.Now Ashby’s 68-year-old husband — who never liked going to the doctor — is hooked to a ventilator in the intensive care unit at Heywood Hospital with COVID-19 pneumonia, she said. He was admitted Sunday, after his blood oxygen level plummeted. Ashby, 52, a former home care aide, fears he was sickened at Crossroads,one of nearly 150 cases now traced to services and events at the church.
“I’ve already collapsed over this. My nerves are shot,” said Ashby, of Orange, who suspects she’s now sick with COVID-19, too. “As the church would say, I’m trying to be angry and sin not, and not go after them, but I’m so angry.”Get Today’s Headlines in your inboxThe 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.Sign Up
As the pandemic has worn on, churches across the country have emerged as a major source of coronavirus infections.NowCrossroads, a popular Pentecostal church, is one epicenter of an escalating outbreak in Fitchburg.
The Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards first investigated complaints about the church’s compliance with COVID-19 health protocols in late September, according to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The department reviewed a copy of the church’s COVID-19 safety plan, found no discrepancies, and closed the case on Oct. 2.
But additional complaints about safety violations prompted the department to issue a written warning to Crossroads on Oct. 21, with an order to take corrective actions.The church agreed to close to make improvements. No fines were imposed.
In addition to the nearly 150 infections linked to Crossroads, the Fitchburg Board of Health has identified more than 40 COVID-19 cases tied to local hockey leagues, according to Stephen Curry, the city’s director of public health. In a statement released Saturday, Curry said many of the cases associated with the outbreaks at the church and hockey programs are believed to be asymptomatic, meaning infected residents may have unwittingly spread the virus to others.