Thirty-eight percent of congregants who attended events at a church in a rural Arkansas county during a six-day period in March later tested positive for Covid-19, according to a report published Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the report, 35 of 92 people who attended events at the church from March 6 to 11 had lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19. The outbreak resulted in three deaths among church attendees, all people over 65. Six of the seven patients that were hospitalized were also in this same age range.
Contact tracing identified at least 26 additional people who tested positive for Covid-19 and had contact with members of the church. From this group, one person was hospitalized and subsequently died.
As of April 22, 61 confirmed cases had been identified in people directly and indirectly associated events at the church and there were a total of four deaths.
The church pastor developed symptoms on March 11 and his wife developed symptoms on March 10. After becoming aware of symptoms among churchgoers, the church was closed on March 12. The pastor and his wife sought testing on March 13 and received laboratory confirmation of Covid-19 on March 16. The Arkansas Department of Health was notified of those first two confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the county on March 16 – also the same day national social distancing guidelines were announced.
An investigation afterward found two people who were symptomatic during March 6 to 8 “likely initiated the chain of transmission among church attendees.”
"The primary patients had no known Covid-19 exposures in the 14 days preceding their symptom onset dates, suggesting that local transmission was occurring before case detection," the CDC said in its report.
The report notes some limitations, including that not all of those who were infected sought testing and some were ineligible for testing based on the criteria at the time. Forty-five of 92 people who attended events at the church were tested for Covid-19.
The report said faith-based organizations "should be aware of the potential for high rates of transmission" for Covid-19.
"These organizations should work with local health officials to determine how to implement the U.S. Government’s guidelines for modifying activities during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent transmission of the virus to their members and their communities."