Maui church linked to at least 55 COVID cases refuses to cancel in-person services
HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Maui church linked to a large cluster of COVID cases is refusing to cancel in-person services, despite calls to do so from the state Health Department.
At least 55 infections have now been linked to King’s Cathedral in Kahului as part of a cluster first identified in early March.
The state Health Department is asking anyone who attended events hosted by the church to get tested for COVID.
Health officials are also asking the church to cancel all upcoming in-person events, especially as Easter approaches.
“It’s Easter weekend. It’s a very significant weekend for a lot of people, and we’re just really, really concerned about large gatherings,” said state Health Director Dr. Libby Char. “If we have large person gatherings for church services and whatnot, that’s just going to continue the spread.”
Despite pleas to cancel in-person events, the church is unwilling to do so.
“The church is classified as an essential institution that is protected by the constitution of the U.S.,” said Kelly Davison, an administrator at King’s Cathedral.
“It is there as a beacon of hope. It is there to encourage and help people during this time. That is why we continue to have in-person services, again following CDC guidelines and working directly with the county of Maui to be able to make sure we honor authority, but also exercise the right as a church to be able to meet.”
In statements online Wednesday, the church said it was canceling an Easter egg hunt and production but said in-person church services would continue.
“We’re not going to stop doing our duty,” Senior Paster James Marocco told the Maui News on Wednesday. “I recall when the hospital was having horrible situations with COVID, they didn’t shut the hospital down. They did whatever they could to limit the spread and that’s what we’ve done.”
Marocco also told the newspaper that its cathedral in Kahului “maxes out” at 1,000 people because of social distancing rules. Other King’s churches on Maui attract an additional 2,000 people on Sundays.
The first cases associated with King’s Cathedral were identified March 7.
The state Health Department said at that point, it met with church representatives to recommend containment measures, including switching to virtual services.
But DOH said transmission continued to occur through in-person services, a youth conference and other gatherings organized by the church.
In the last 10 days alone, the cluster has doubled. Those infected range from 10 to 77 years old.
Officials said the cluster has also spread from the church to a school and a workplace, and they expressed concern about the potential for more “spillover” cases if more action isn’t taken.
“DOH does not disclose specific cluster locations unless there is an imminent risk to public health,” said acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble, in a news release. “Based on the findings of our investigative team, we believe disclosure is warranted to prevent further transmission of the disease.”
In addition to getting tested, the Health Department is asking anyone who attended King’s Cathedral events in the past 14 days to monitor their symptoms.
To schedule a COVID test, click here.
This story will be updated.
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