Religious gatherings among factors for recent spike in total COVID-19 clusters statewide

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Manna Church reaches up to 20,000 people, online and in-person, on a weekly basis in the Sandhills, making it quite the task for Chris Fetcher, lead pastor of the church, to keep his staff and congregation safe from COVID-19.

"We work overtime to sanitize our spots," Fletcher said. The Fayetteville-based church, like many other places of worship, have had to adapt to a global pandemic while being a source of spiritual guidance for community members.

On Wednesday afternoon, during a Coronavirus Task Force press conference, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen talked about the uptick in metrics, including COVID-19 clusters.

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Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that Phase 3 of his COVID-19 restrictions would remain in place.

"We've also seen an increase in cases for clusters in religious gatherings," Cohen noted.

A cluster is when there are five or more cases reported in a non-congregate living setting.

There have been 76 total reported clusters at religious gatherings, resulting in 1,040 cases and 13 deaths; this category sitting right behind college and universities and meat and poultry processing plants, according to the latest state data.

Just this week, a Charlotte church became the source of a super-spreader, as a result of a week-long event. Mecklenburg County health officials say this massive cluster led to 68 confirmed COVID-19 cases and two deaths.

Pastor Fletcher says they have not dealt with a cluster but took precautions when a staff member tested positive in the summertime, "We had a graduation where everybody was involved in the graduation. Out of an abundance of caution, we decided to close everything down for a couple of weeks."

Fletcher says staff and members are required to wear masks. They sanitize surfaces, enforce social distancing, and provide online services and Bible studies. He says this allows every member the chance to pick what's best and safest for them.

Manna Church, which already had a strong online presence, has put a lot more focus into that online avenue of outreach to ensure anyone can have the opportunity to feel a part of the church, according to Fletcher.

"The goal never was to figure out how we can get more people in the room; the goal was to figure out how many people we could affect with Jesus' love and how many people we can serve," Fletcher said.

The NCDHHS said the best way to combat the virus in a church environment or any other social setting is by practicing the 3 W's: Wash, Wear, and Wait.
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