Person with coronavirus attends Mother’s Day church service, exposes 180 in Butte County

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After a person who attended an in-person religious service on Mother’s Day tested positive for the novel coronavirus, public health officials in Butte County, Calif., issued a strongly worded warning to residents not to speed too quickly through the reopening process.

The person received a positive test result the day after the service, which had more than 180 attendees, officials said Friday in a news release.

Gatherings of any size remain prohibited, even in counties that are reopening more quickly than the rest of California. But the organization that held the service chose to open its doors despite the rules, exposing the entire congregation to the coronavirus, officials said.

“This decision comes at a cost of many hours and a financial burden to respond effectively to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19,” the release said, noting that health officials are working to notify all those who attended the service and instruct them to self-quarantine. The county health department also is working with healthcare partners to obtain testing for all attendees, officials said.

“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, county public health director, said in a statement urging residents to follow stay-at-home orders.

“Moving too quickly through the reopening process can cause a major setback and could require us to revert back to more restrictive measures,” York said.

Butte County is one of 22 counties that has certified to the state that it meets the conditions for additional businesses to reopen.

The county’s public health officer, Andy Miller, announced Saturday that he was resigning effective July 10. The decision was not related to any particular incident or disagreement, the county public health department said in a news release.

Miller’s contract was up for renewal in the fall and he wanted to give the health department more time to recruit a replacement, the release said.

“We are prepared to recruit for a health officer who, like Dr. Miller, will lead us as we bring our economy back and keep this virus at bay,” Shari McCracken, the county’s chief administrative officer, said in a statement.

The vast majority of religious institutions have followed the state’s stay-at-home order. But a few churches have challenged it and in some cases held services.

Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that California Gov. Gavin Newsom had the right to ban church assemblies in the interest of public health during the coronavirus outbreak.

Newsom’s stay-at-home order did not violate the constitutional rights to free assembly and religion when the Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi was ordered to cease holding services, Judge John Mendez ruled in Sacramento.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Track cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

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