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High COVID-19 Attack Rate Among Attendees at Events at a Church - Arkansas, March 2020

OPEN MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report | 22 May 2020

A James, L Eagle, C Phillips, DS Hedges, C Bodenhamer, R Brown, JG Wheeler and H Kirking
Abstract
On March 16, 2020, the day that national social distancing guidelines were released (1), the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) was notified of two cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) from a rural county of approximately 25,000 persons; these cases were the first identified in this county. The two cases occurred in a husband and wife; the husband is the pastor at a local church (church A). The couple (the index cases) attended church-related events during March 6-8, and developed nonspecific respiratory symptoms and fever on March 10 (wife) and 11 (husband). Before his symptoms had developed, the husband attended a Bible study group on March 11. Including the index cases, 35 confirmed COVID-19 cases occurred among 92 (38%) persons who attended events held at church A during March 6-11; three patients died. The age-specific attack rates among persons aged ≤18 years, 19-64 years, and ≥65 years were 6.3%, 59.4%, and 50.0%, respectively. During contact tracing, at least 26 additional persons with confirmed COVID-19 cases were identified among community members who reported contact with church A attendees and likely were infected by them; one of the additional persons was hospitalized and subsequently died. This outbreak highlights the potential for widespread transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, both at group gatherings during church events and within the broader community. These findings underscore the opportunity for faith-based organizations to prevent COVID-19 by following local authorities' guidance and the U.S. Government’s Guidelines: Opening Up America Again (2) regarding modification of activities to prevent virus transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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