BY: KARMA ALLEN, ABC NEWS
(NEW YORK) — Health officials said they temporarily shut down a North Carolina church after it was connected to massive coronavirus outbreak that resulted in at least three deaths and more than 100 infections.
The Mecklenburg County Health Department ordered United House of Prayer for All People in Charlotte to close for two weeks, halting in-person gatherings. The church's week-long convocation led to an estimated 121 COVID-19 infections across three counties, according to a department statement.
County health officials said the church has not cooperated with efforts to stem the virus's spread and accused it of eschewing social distancing guidelines. United House of Prayer for All People held its convocation earlier this month in Charlotte, North Carolina.
County leaders said it was the largest outbreak stemming from an event since the pandemic began. At least 14 residents at the Madison Saints Paradise South Senior Living were infected in connection to the outbreak, health officials said.
Gibbie Harris, Mecklenburg County's public health director, said the department issued an "abatement of imminent hazard” to the church over the weekend to formally notify leaders of the order. The county defines an "imminent hazard" as a situation that could cause an "immediate threat to human life, an immediate threat of serious physical injury, an immediate threat of serious adverse health effects or a serious rick of irreparable damage to the environment if no immediate action is taken," according to its website.
The order came shorty after the church announced plans to carry on with large events, including its “Worldwind Revival” which was scheduled to take place from Oct. 25 through Oct. 31.
“We have taken this action out of an abundance of caution to prevent the COVID-19 virus from further spreading in our community," Harris said in a statement Saturday. “This type of order is rare, but sometimes necessary.”
“The opportunity for it to continue to spread exists in this environment and is of grave concern to us,” Harris added.
Last week, Mecklenburg County officials said they contacted local health departments in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey and New York to warn of possible cases tied to the United House of Prayer for All People outbreak.
Church leaders said they were also working to contact people who may have came in contact with attendees of the event.
“We are aware that there were convocation activities throughout the week. Following initial case investigations, it was determined that the early cases were most likely connected to the larger events held on Saturday and Sunday," they said in a statement last week. "As the case count has grown, we are aware of additional cases likely connected to smaller events that occurred during the week."
Church leaders said they urged members and attendees of the event to "closely monitor" for symptoms.
"We are currently attempting to trace contacts for all cases who participated in any of the activities," the statement said. "Out of an abundance of caution, we recommend anyone who participated in any of these events to closely monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and get tested as soon as possible.”
ABC News' Jon Haworth contributed to this report.
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