Mecklenburg officials bar church from holding gatherings after 120+ test positive for COVID-19 at previous event

Updated: Oct. 24, 2020 at 12:47 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Mecklenburg health officials issued an abatement order against a church prohibiting gatherings for two weeks after more than 120 people who attended an event earlier this month tested positive for COVID-19.

The United House of Prayer for All People on Beatties Ford Road had a week-long revival planned to begin Sunday and hadn’t committed to canceling the event, County Manager Dena Diorio said during a Saturday morning press conference.

Now officials have barred the church from holding in-person gatherings at its Mecklenburg County properties until at least Nov. 6.

Mecklenburg Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said Saturday that there have been at least 121 positive cases stemming from the event. Three have died and seven people are hospitalized. Fourteen cases are connected to an outbreak at the nearby Madison Saints Paradise South Independent Living and another two cases are connected to an outbreak at the White Oak Manor on Craig Avenue.

“We believe the risk to our community is grave and reaches into any number of settings,” Harris said.

Harris, who said she “does not take this authority lightly,” said it’s only the third such abatement she’s issued in her 30-plus career in public health.

Diorio said the church has rebuffed efforts to work with the county.

“We have made several efforts and attempts to work with the United House of Prayer and requested to do testing events on their site and requested information from the organization to be able to ensure that we can get compliance as well as do additional contact tracing,” Diorio said.

If the church ignores the order, the county can file for a temporary restraining order, Harris said.

The county’s order also requires the church to post a public notice that all in-person gatherings at United House of Prayer facilities are canceled until at least Nov. 6, and it must take reasonable steps to clean and disinfect all indoor surfaces at its Beatties Ford Road location.

“Unfortunately the church environment isn’t one where people always wear the masks through the whole service or socially distance,” Harris said. “Any environment... where you’re not doing those things, you’re putting each other at risk.”

Mecklenburg County health officials say one of the deaths was a resident at Madison Saints Paradise South.

Two of the confirmed deaths were people over the age of 60. The other was a woman under 50 years old, according to health officials.

This is now considered the single biggest outbreak in Mecklenburg County.

“This is the largest investigated in the county during the pandemic,” Deputy Public Health Director Raynard Washington said.

Health officials say they are inspecting several restaurants that have been connected with the event.

“This was a regional event,” Washington said. “There were folks traveling from all over North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and other areas. Our concern are the folks in our area.”

Health officials say 127 more attendees of the event were tested for the virus on Thursday at the Northwest Health Department on Beatties Ford Road.

The United House of Prayer for All People on Beatties Ford Road was holding an annual gathering the weekend of Oct. 10, according to county commissioner and church member Vilma Leake. The events were held Oct. 4-11.

Public Health has attempted to contact 137 close contacts reported by the confirmed cases. If you have received a message from a contact tracer, please call the contact tracing hotline at 980-314-9401.

Public Health has also notified several local health departments in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey and New York to monitor for potential cases connected to these events.

“In that gathering people come from all over the country, maybe all over the world, to come to that festive affair,” Leake said.

Washingon stated the cluster is concerning. He also said the House of Prayer has not been interested in hosting a testing site at on its property.

“To this date we have not had testing at the church they have not been interested,” Washington said.

People who attended the events at United House of Prayer For All People on Beatties Ford Road were asked to get tested for COVID-19.

Officials say if you were there, get tested. Also, if you were there and get a call, it could be a contact tracer, so answer your phone.

Leake also held up her speaker phone during the meeting as a church leader identified as Elder Murray claimed they followed local and national health guidelines even though Washington previously claimed those guidelines weren’t always followed.

“We sit and maintain distance six feet apart in our sanctuary, there are hand cleansing stations throughout the sanctuary,” Murray said.

On Sunday, Charlotte nonprofit “the Genesis Project” set up shop on Reagan Road to help anyone who may have been exposed to the virus.

“We want to make sure that we can help as many as possible,” said Garcia Nelson, with Genesis Project. “And many of our people in the Mecklenburg County area will take advantage of being tested to ensure their own safety.”

“The Genesis Project” was prepared to give out more than 300 tests on Sunday.

Public Health advises anyone who attended events at the church Oct. 4 - Oct. 11 or who has been in contact with someone who attended events at the church on the dates mentioned above get tested for COVID-19.

If you have COVID-19 like symptoms, please avoid close contact with anyone. In partnership with StarMed Health,

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