Lake County reported a dramatic spike in COVID-19 numbers last week after 22 new cases were confirmed in one day in connection with a local faith-based organization unnamed by Lake County Public Health Agency.

The agency released a statement Feb. 3 announcing the 22-case increase, though it did not name a specific organization as the source of the outbreak.

The following day, on Feb. 4, Lake County Public Health Agency (LCPHA) reported 15 new cases, half of which the agency attributed to the same unnamed organization. Another 10 new active cases were reported on Saturday, though LCPHA reported these were due to general community spread. 

In the span of three days last week, the county identified a total of 47 new infections. 

Last week’s spike represented a significant increase in the number of active infections in Lake County, with LCPHA reporting 70 active cases as of Feb. 9. Though the active infection rate increased, the overal cumulative incidence rate has declined in recent weeks.

After the Herald received several reports of the outbreak being linked to Cornerstone Church, the newspaper contacted Jason Horning, the pastor at Cornerstone’s Leadville location. 

While Horning confirmed that people within the church’s congregation have been diagnosed with the virus, he was not able to confirm that Cornerstone was the source of the new infections. 

Horning addressed questions about large gatherings of maskless congregants, saying the church has continued with in-person worship with masks and other precautions, though attendees are allowed to remove face coverings after taking seats in the sanctuary. Horning said seats have been placed apart to allow for social distancing.

Horning said Cornerstone is requesting attendees wear masks, but not barring anyone from attendance if unmasked.

“I’m more than happy to talk with anyone,” Horning said while acknowledging comments made by locals in regards to Cornerstone’s operations. 

In-person attendance has been limited to 50 people per service. For the past two weeks, Cornerstone Church has closed in-person worship and shifted to virtual services, Horning told the Herald.

While the outbreak has been linked to one faith-based organization, LCPHA has gotten complaints about numerous places of worship not abiding by public health guidelines, LCPHA Director Colleen Nielsen told the Herald.

While Nielsen said the agency reaches out to organizations when it receives such complaints, she said there is no mechanism, within LCPHA or otherwise, to enforce adherence to public health measures at places of worship.

This, in part, is as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in December that excuses religious organizations from COVID-19 restrictions. High Plains Harvest Church, a church in Ault, Colorado, was one of the filers in the lawsuit.

When LCPHA receives information about any organization, faith-based or otherwise, not abiding by public health orders, Nielsen said LCPHA reaches out to inform the organization about personal responsibility and best practices. 

Nielsen did not name any one faith-based organization as the source of last week’s outbreak.

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