CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County health officials said Wednesday that at least 68 positive COVID-19 cases are now tied to a convocation event at the United House of Prayer for All People.
Of the 68 cases, at least four people have been hospitalized and two people have died.
Those numbers include attendees and close contacts. Health officials said they have tried to get in touch with 94 close contacts that were reported by the people who tested positive.
Health officials believe there may have been more than 1,000 people at the convocation events that took place between Oct. 4 and 11.
Officials also said one of the people who died was a resident at Madison Saints Paradise Independent Living. Health officials reported that six of the people who tested positive from the event live at the assisted living facility.
“One of the reasons why we discourage large gatherings is because they are difficult to manage,” said Dr. Raynard Washington, deputy health director.
County health officials said they have contacted several local health departments in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey and New York for possible cases tied to the events.
“I have advised them to not have any gatherings in the coming weeks because we don’t know how far the spread has gone at this point, and it is not a good idea to reconvene those same groups of people,” Washington said.
During Mecklenburg County’s Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday evening, health officials reported 50 positive COVID-19 cases connected to the church’s events. By Wednesday, another case had been confirmed, bringing the total to 51.
“We need the community to do the right thing and get tested if they were a part of it. Answer the telephone when our contact tracers call,” Washington said.
On Saturday, Channel 9 reported that at least nine positive cases of COVID-19 may have been connected with the event held earlier at the west Charlotte church, the Mecklenburg County Health Department said.
Then on Monday, officials reported 23 positive cases were tied to the church event.
Health officials urged anyone who attended the event at United House of Prayer for All People on Beatties Ford Road on Oct. 10 and 11 should be tested. No-cost drive-thru COVID-19 testing will be held at the northwest HD this Thursday and Friday.
One man, who asked to remain anonymous, told Channel 9 he didn’t feel comfortable going to the event.
“I decided because of health reasons in my family, I wasn’t going there," he said. “It should have never been held. It was just too many people."
Another member of the church, who asked to remain anonymous, said their biggest concern was “more people dying.”
“How can you honestly say that you’re taking the necessary steps. Even in the tent. The tent was purposely not socially distanced," they said.
On Tuesday, county health officials confirmed to Channel 9 that the convocation activities lasted throughout the week at the United House of Prayer -- not just that two-day period.
On Tuesday, the county sent Channel 9 the following statement:
“We are aware that there were convocation activities throughout the week. Following initial case investigations, it was determined that the early cases were most likely connected to the larger events held on Saturday and Sunday. As the case count has grown, we are aware of additional cases likely connected to smaller events that occurred during the week. We are currently attempting to trace contacts for all cases who participated in any of the activities. Out of an abundance of caution, we recommend anyone who participated in any of these events to closely monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and get tested as soon as possible.”
Commissioner Vilma Leake said she has attended the church in the past.
“The House of Prayer is special for me because it’s one of our faith communities, and I have been attending that faith community since I was on the school board for 10 years," she said.
During the meeting on Tuesday, she called on a leader of the west Charlotte House of Worship, who addressed the board of commissioners.
“We are very serious about bending the curve and leveling that out. We are very serious about the health of those who worship with us. We just appreciate all concern and are going to continue to take this matter under the strictest concern," the church leader said.
Leake and health officials said leaders at the church took significant steps to ensure mask-wearing and social distancing, but it was difficult to enforce. Leake said the head of the church wrote to attendees, warning them of the situation and the urgency to get tested.
“Sometimes, the best you do is not always everything you can do. You cannot control it,” she said.
Now, Leake is just hoping to get anyone who was there the help they need.
“Testing is available free of charge through the county," she said.
Free COVID-19 testing was offered last Sunday at StarMed Health on Tuckaseegee Road.
So far, this appears to be the highest number of cases from a single event in the county. Channel 9 has been trying to get in contact with church officials for days but have not heard back.
Health officials are asking church leaders to pause any other in-person services.
“I have personally assigned the church not to host any other gatherings for at least for 14 days,” Washington said.
No other details have been released at this point.
Initial statement from the Health Department:
"On October 16 and 17, Public Health identified through case investigations at least 9 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among residents who participated in Convocation at the United House of Prayer for All People (2321 Beatties Ford Road) the prior weekend (10/10 – 10/11).
"The planners made significant efforts to ensure mask-wearing and social distancing among the hundreds of attendees at the indoor and outdoor events; however, enforcement was limited and attendees were not always in compliance. As of today, Public Health is investigating more than 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among attendees and their close contacts.
“Public Health advises anyone who attended these events to closely monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and get tested.
For general questions about COVID-19 or COVID-19 testing, call 980-314-9400. Public Health also wants to remind everyone that COVID-19 spreads easily, especially during gatherings with limited masking or social distancing. It is important that we all continue to practice the 3 W’s and avoid gatherings to prevent further spread in our community.
Editor’s note: Initially, it was reported in this article the church sent a statement when in fact, it was the Mecklenburg County Health Department that issued the statement.
Check back with wsoctv.com for updates.
Cox Media Group