Tennessee Pastor Says He ‘Gave Up’ on Counting How Many Church Members Got Infected With Coronavirus After Outbreak

Westmore Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee

In his first interview since Westmore Church of God became the focus of a regional outbreak of COVID-19, the church’s lead pastor Kelvin Page said the church should have taken masks more seriously as a precaution and that the church is no longer tracking the number of confirmed cases in the congregation.

During an interview with Mix 104.1 WCLE in Cleveland on Thursday, Page said his church followed strong standards to keep people safe, including seat spacing and encouraging social distancing, but the virus began spreading in the congregation around June 21.

“It slipped in on us,” Page said. “It came in through the music ministry. It’s nobody’s fault. In fact that morning, as we did every week, temperatures were taken before choir members would go to the stage, and somehow it slipped in on us. I have to take responsibility for that.”

Westmore had held in-person services for weeks before the outbreak began. On June 22, Westmore hosted a regional worship service for the Tennessee Church of God state office, part of a monthlong tour of Church of God congregations in Tennessee by church officials. Several hundred people, from across Southeast Tennessee, attended the three-hour, indoor event.

Between June 24 and 26, Page announced on Facebook there were first one, then five and then 12 confirmed cases in the congregation. On June 26, he announced he was shutting down in-person services. People connected with the church feared the number of cases was multiples of what had been reported, and church leadership said little publicly for weeks.

During Thursday’s interview, Page said maintaining an exact count of sick people in the church is complicated since some believe they got the virus at another location or tested positive for influenza but not COVID-19.

“I do not know the exact number,” he told the radio station. “I don’t even know. I wouldn’t even know within a range. I do know that it is way too many. And we’ve got to live and learn from it. And so we gave up on keeping a count.

“I do regret that I can’t give you an exact number,” he added. “I would want to own that. We do know that it hit us hard and that it was way too many people.”

Watching people in his church fight the virus has been difficult, Page said, adding that he and his mother-in-law were infected.

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SOURCE: Chattanooga Times Free Press, Wyatt Massey