Mecklenburg health officials issued an abatement order against a church prohibiting gatherings for two weeks after more than 120 people who attended an event earlier this month tested positive for COVID-19.
The United House of Prayer for All People on Beatties Ford Road had a week-long revival planned to begin Sunday and hadn’t committed to canceling the event, County Manager Dena Diorio said during a Saturday morning press conference.
Now officials have barred the church from holding in-person gatherings at its Mecklenburg County properties until at least Nov. 6.
Mecklenburg Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said Saturday that there have been at least 121 positive cases stemming from the event. Three have died and seven people are hospitalized. Fourteen cases are connected to an outbreak at the nearby Madison Saints Paradise South Independent Living and another two cases are connected to an outbreak at the White Oak Manor on Craig Avenue.
“We believe the risk to our community is grave and reaches into any number of settings,” Harris said.
Harris, who said she “does not take this authority lightly,” said it’s only the third such abatement she’s issued in her 30-plus career in public health.
Diorio said the church has rebuffed efforts to work with the county.
“We have made several efforts and attempts to work with the United House of Prayer and requested to do testing events on their site and requested information from the organization to be able to ensure that we can get compliance as well as do additional contact tracing,” Diorio said.
If the church ignores the order, the county can file for a temporary restraining order, Harris said.
The county’s order also requires the church to post a public notice that all in-person gatherings at United House of Prayer facilities are canceled until at least Nov. 6, and it must take reasonable steps to clean and disinfect all indoor surfaces at its Beatties Ford Road location.
“Unfortunately the church environment isn’t one where people always wear the masks through the whole service or socially distance,” Harris said. “Any environment… where you’re not doing those things, you’re putting each other at risk.”
Mecklenburg County health officials say one of the deaths was a resident at Madison Saints Paradise South.
Two of the confirmed deaths were people over the age of 60. The other was a woman under 50 years old, according to health officials.
This is now considered the single biggest outbreak in Mecklenburg County.
“This is the largest investigated in the county during the pandemic,” Deputy Public Health Director Raynard Washington said.
Health officials say they are inspecting several restaurants that have been connected with the event.
“This was a regional event,” Washington said. “There were folks traveling from all over North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and other areas. Our concern are the folks in our area.”
Health officials say 127 more attendees of the event were tested for the virus on Thursday at the Northwest Health Department on Beatties Ford Road.
The United House of Prayer for All People on Beatties Ford Road was holding an annual gathering the weekend of Oct. 10, according to county commissioner and church member Vilma Leake. The events were held Oct. 4-11.
Public Health has attempted to contact 137 close contacts reported by the confirmed cases. If you have received a message from a contact tracer, please call the contact tracing hotline at 980-314-9401.
Public Health has also notified several local health departments in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey and New York to monitor for potential cases connected to these events.