Church Attendee Tests Positive for Coronavirus After Service, Putting 180 People at Risk

Members of a California congregation have potentially been exposed to the novel coronavirus following an in-person Mother’s Day service.

One day after attending the May gathering, which was held in violation of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ban on public events and gatherings, an attendee received a positive coronavirus diagnosis, the Butte County Public Health Department said in a press release. The individual is currently in home isolation.

More than 180 people also attended the service and have subsequently been notified to self-quarantine, health officials say. BCPH is also working to provide tests to all of the congregants.

“At this time, organizations that hold in-person services or gatherings are putting the health and safety of their congregations, the general public and our local ability to open up at great risk,” Danette York, Director of Butte County Public Health, said in the press release.

“We all need to do our part to follow the orders and mitigation efforts so that our Reopen Butte County plan can continue to move forward. Moving too quickly through the reopening process can cause a major setback and could require us to revert back to more restrictive measures,” York added. “We implore everyone to follow the State order and our reopening plan to help combat the potential spread of COVID-19.”

Although the congregation was not named by health officials, Palermo Bible Family Church Pastor Mike Jacobsen confirmed to both the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times that the exposure had occurred at his church.

Jacobsen also addressed the situation during this week’s Sunday service, which was streamed live on the church’s Facebook page.

“We have this week, faced a few giants. We faced a few challenges,” he said. “We had a virus that was here in church with us last Sunday. An individual tested positive for it.”

“They didn’t feel sick in any way, zero symptoms, they didn’t feel symptoms afterwards, but they did test and they have tested positive,” he added. “But they didn’t do it intentionally, they didn’t come to church intentionally. It was never my heart to put our church in harms’ way. That's never been my desire.”

Jacobsen went on to confirm that he is also in self-quarantine and had not left his house prior to the service. He also said the church was “praying” about whether to issue any additional comment to media outlets.

PBFC did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Last month, three pastors sued Gov. Newsom, claiming that by putting a ban on gatherings, the elected official had stripped state residents of their "fundamental rights protected by the U.S. and California Constitutions, including freedom of religion, speech, and assembly, and due process and equal protection under the law,” according to CNN.

In April, a congregation in Sacramento County was also exposed to COVID-19, with 71 people associated with the church testing positive for the virus, The Sacramento Bee reported.

Although California has begun the process of reopening, provided individual counties meet certain criteria, church services are not a part of the state’s initial reopening plans. However, houses of worship have begun to reopen in several states across the country, including Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Virginia.

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