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Latest report from Morbidity and Mortality Reports (MMWR) from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) illustrates how two COVID positive participants from an Arkansas rural church impacted their congregations and communities.

In the May 19 report, researchers looked at information from the audience of a church in rural Arkansas from March 6-11. Two people with symptoms who were tested positive for COVID-19 attended local church events during this period of time. They are considered as the main case of COVID-19 in spreading in the church.

The church pastor and his wife also attend church events during March 6-8, and they both develop symptoms of breathing and fever that are not specific on March 10 (wife) and March 11 (pastor). It is possible that they were infected at church events during March 6-8, and the pastor may have exposed others to COVID-19 when he was presymptomatic during the Bible study event he attended on March 11.

Among the 92 participants who attended this event, 35 then developed COVID-19 which was laboratory confirmed. Three people finally died. At least 26 additional cases in the community traced back to church cases were confirmed, with one death.

The risk of symptomatic infection in adults over 65 years is not higher than among adults aged 19-65 years. However, of church attendees, six out of seven people who were hospitalized over 65 years of age and three deaths occurred in people over 65 years, supporting US data indicating higher hospitalization and mortality rates in among people who are 65 years or older.

In addition, this report shares findings that are consistent with other reports on COVID-19 in children. Children represent 35% of church attendees, but only 18% of them are tested and only 6% of cases are confirmed. This is consistent with other reports that show children with COVID-19 are more asymptomatic and have lower rates of hospitalization. The role of asymptomatic children in SARS-CoV-2 transmission is still unknown. This information is an important consideration when thinking about opening public spaces, such as churches, which have a high number of children as participants.

High transmission rates of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have been reported from hospitals, long-term care facilities, family gatherings and choir practices. This report underlines how church events also represent new opportunities for transmission. This report encourages faith-based groups that organize personal operations – such as services, funerals, or community events – to realize the high potential for transmission. Church administrators should work with local health officials to determine how to apply the U.S. government guidelines to modify the activity.

Read the full report.

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