At least 34 individuals who have connections to an Arkansas church have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and that number could climb higher as more testing is completed.
Donald Shipp, a deacon at First Assembly of God in Greers Ferry, Ark., told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that all 34 attended a “Kids Crusade” event March 6-8. Among the infected are pastor Mark Palenske and his wife, Dena.
The event was held prior to the CDC’s guidance to limit mass gatherings.
“It clearly made its way through a special weekend of children’s ministry at our church,” Palenske wrote in a Facebook post.
COVID-19, he added, is “highly contagious.”
“The intensity of this virus has been underestimated by so many, and I continue to ask that each of you take it very seriously,” he wrote. An act of wisdom and restraint on your part can be the blessing that preserves the health of someone else.”
Vice President Mike Pence has said the coronavirus is three times as contagious as the flu. It’s also 10 times deadlier than the flu, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the Coronavirus Task Force.
Danyelle McNeill, an Arkansas Department of Health spokeswoman, said Monday there were “connections to travel” with the outbreak at the church.
Palenske said he and his wife had not traveled outside the state.
Gracie Campbell, a member of the church, said the outbreak was a result of “bad timing.” She and her husband are awaiting results of their tests.
“I'm sure there are plenty of people walking around exposed [to the virus] and don't even know it, and other people that don't care,” Campbell told the newspaper. “That's the sad thing. There are people that don't even believe that it is a virus, and that's ridiculous.”
Palenske said the symptoms for him and his wife “began with a headache followed by intense body aches and lethargy.” They also dealt with “waves of chills, sweating and nausea.” The couple immediately self-quarantined, he wrote.
He urged members to pray for local medical personnel who are working long shifts.
“They are trying their very best and we are indebted to their diligence and their compassionate service,” Palenske wrote.
Photo courtesy: Greers Ferry First Assembly of God Church Facebook Page
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.