Colorado Places Of Worship Have Become A Worrying Source Of Coronavirus Outbreaks

Virus Outbreak Florida
John Raoux/AP
A health worker draws blood from a patient for a COVID-19 antibody test, May 5, 2020.

Houses of worship have become a growing concern for Colorado health departments as the number of COVID-19 outbreaks within church communities and at religious events has climbed. 

In the last two weeks there have been at least four COVID-19 outbreaks at churches, according to state and county health departments. 

Two of those outbreaks occurred in Garfield County at the Iglesia de Dios Pentacostal in Parachute, with at least eight lab-confirmed cases, and the Pan de Vida church in Rifle, with at least 14 lab-confirmed cases. All cases were reported among church attendees.

According to the Garfield County Public Health department, most of the spread occurred prior to the state mask ordinance and a case investigation revealed that there was little social distancing or mask-wearing.

Another common factor among the outbreaks in Garfield County was that group singing was incorporated into worship services. Case studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control have found that singing could lead to further spread of COVID-19.

Preliminary results from a study at the University of Colorado showed that more aerosols were released by singers depending on the intensity of the song and the words spoken. The singer in the study released the most aerosols when performing a church choir piece than any other type of song tested. That study has not yet been completed or peer-reviewed and the results may change.

"Singing releases smaller infectious particles that can hang in the air and circulate in enclosed spaces, and the risk increases when there are large numbers of people indoors,” a spokesperson from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment wrote in an email. "Our guidance related to houses of worship strongly discourages choirs and singing by parishioners."

Despite CDPHE guidance, both churches have Facebook Live videos recorded in the last several weeks that show group singing. Pan de Vida’s most recent Facebook Live video that included unmasked singing was posted Sunday.

The two other outbreaks at churches were exclusively among staff members at the Springs Journey Church in Colorado Springs and at The Heights Church in Denver. None of the churches could be reached for comment.

The new church outbreaks come several weeks after a large outbreak at the Andrew Wommack Ministries bible conference in Woodland Park. While the Teller County health department pre-approved the conference, CDPHE served organizers a cease and desist letter halfway through, on July 2, after the agency received information that events at the conference would likely exceed the 175-person capacity limit in the public health order. A spokesperson for Andrew Wommack Ministries would not confirm if they broke capacity limits, but conceded that it was possible. 

Following the cease and desist notice, Andrew Wommack Ministries moved its upcoming “Healing is Here” conference online. The conference’s webpage includes testimonials from people who claim they were miraculously healed from conditions like autism and multiple sclerosis. 

"I believe we have the Constitutional right to hold the event live, but I also do not want anyone to get sick if we can avoid it,” Wommack wrote in a statement on the website. "I know it seems ironic that I’d be canceling a healing conference due to a sickness outbreak. If it was just me, I believe that if I touch someone, they’ll catch my healing instead of me catching their sickness."

CDPHE reported 23 new outbreaks this week, which is defined as two or more cases related to one facility or event within a two week period. In addition to the religious facility outbreaks, outbreaks occurred at five restaurants, three elder care facilities, three jails or prisons, three healthcare facilities, two warehouse and distribution facilities, a construction company, a bar, a store, an office and a landscaping company.

New coronavirus outbreaks reported this week

Editor’s Note: The Pan de Vida outbreak was not listed in the CDPHE outbreak report. Case numbers for that facility have not been finalized and it is not included here. The outbreak at the Iglesia de Dios Pentacostal occurred last week, but was first reported by CDPHE on Wednesday.

Facility name Date outbreak confirmed TypeCountyCOVID-19 cases
Abrusci’s Fire and Vine07/31/20RestaurantJefferson2 staff positive
Brother’s Bar and Grill08/03/20BarLarimer3 staff positive, 1 staff probable
Centennial Correctional Facility07/29/20State PrisonFremont5 residents positive, 1 staff positive
Cold Front Distribution LLC08/04/20Food WarehouseAdams2 staff positive
Colorado Flatwork, Inc.07/29/20ConstructionEl Paso4 staff positive
Colorado Springs Pediatric Dentistry — South Office07/31/20Health CareEl Paso2 staff positive
Community Alternatives of El Paso County08/03/20Jail and Halfway HouseEl Paso2 residents positive, 1 resident probable
Continuum of Colorado — Village East08/04/20Elder CareArapahoe2 residents positive
Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center 07/29/20 State PrisonDenver3 residents positive
Dick’s Sporting Goods08/03/20Retail StoreArapahoe2 staff positive
Hapa Sushi08/04/20RestaurantDouglas4 staff positive
Hickory House08/04/20RestaurantDouglas2 staff positive, 1 staff probable
Logos Imaging LLC08/04/20OfficeLarimer2 staff positive, 1 staff probable
McDonald’s08/04/20RestaurantDenver5 staff positive
Mountain Organic Landscaping07/30/20LandscapingEagle5 staff positive
Pasta Jay’s07/31/20RestaurantBoulder2 staff positive
Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care07/29/20Health CareJefferson3 staff positive, 1 staff probable
Springs Journey Church08/04/20Religious FacilityEl Paso4 staff positive
Sundance Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation08/03/20Elder CareEl Paso2 residents positive, 1 resident probable, 1 staff positive
Sygma Trucking07/31/20DistributionDenver2 staff positive
The Haven07/29/20Elder CareRoutt7 residents positive, 1 resident death, 4 staff positive
The Heights Church07/31/20Religious FacilityDenver5 staff positive
Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimmons 08/03/20Elder CareAdams2 residents positive, 2 staff positive