First Baptist Church of Gadsden livestreamed its worship service Sunday, March 15, 2020, to keep congregants at home during the coronavirus outbreak. The church usually has a crowd of 200 people, Pastor Mat Alexander said. Today, Alexander preached to 16 in the sanctuary.
Many of the patients being treated in the coronavirus hotspot of Lee County had a common “last public setting,” a hospital says. A sizable number of them were at church.
In a statement Thursday night, East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika repeated a request for churches to stop meeting in conventional fashion, a step that would help slow the spread of the deadly virus. The hospital said Lee County has spiked from 1 positive case on March 15 to 47 cases less than two weeks later.
That’s the third-most cases of any Alabama County behind much larger counties Jefferson (169 cases) and Shelby (53). [See the state’s latest numbers]
The number of people hospitalized has more than doubled since Tuesday, surging from 7 to 15 by Thursday night while another 24 patients are hospitalized with suspected COVID-19 cases, the statement said. One patient hospitalized for the coronavirus has been discharged.
“While there are no absolute patterns among the 47 confirmed cases in Lee County, one nugget of information does stand out a little — the last public setting for a sizable number of them was at church,” the hospital statement said. “Not at one church, or churches in one town, but at church in general.
“While many churches have moved to online services only—or cancelled church services altogether in the interim—there are reports that some still met as recently as last Sunday.”
The hospital did not identify any specific church.
Such meetings are counter to the prescribed public health policy of groups of people coming together – summarized in the now-familiar phrase of “social distancing.” The virus is easily transmitted between people and keeping a distance provides a buffer designed to slow the spread.
The hospital declared itself a “hot spot” Wednesday in having the third-most positive cases of any Alabama county despite having much smaller populations than the two counties. By population, Jefferson County (which has 169 cases) has 300 percent more people than Lee County and Shelby County (which has 53 cases) has 32 percent more people.
Close behind Lee County with 43 cases, Madison County has 126 percent more people.
An elimination of in-person church services might help stem the flow of positive cases, the hospital said.
“We again are asking that church members please not gather until our region has been deemed safe for group activities,” the hospital statement said. “Please find alternate ways to worship and stay together as a ‘church’ without congregating.”
Another 18 positive cases from three surrounding areas that the hospital services pushes the Auburn-area total to 65.