After learning that some Allen County churches planned to hold small Bible studies with more than 10 people present, the county health commissioner has put restrictions on churches in the county to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The order issued March 21 includes those gatherings held in non-church venues, according to a health department news release.
Health officials learned that some local congregations were still hoping to gather in separated groups of 10 for Bible study or modified services.
The order, effective at 12:01 a.m. March 22, states that no gatherings with a total of more than 10 individuals in a venue, other than single-family units or living units, is permitted.
“While we understand people are still in need of spiritual guidance during these difficult times, we need to be sure everyone grasps the importance of social distancing and avoiding any non-essential gatherings,” said health commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan in the release. “We need the whole community’s cooperation in slowing the spread of COVID-19 to a pace that allows our healthcare systems to provide essential medical care to the expected growing number patients who will contract the virus in addition to all other patients they serve on a regular basis.”
McMahan later clarified her order to faith leaders after Pastor Roger Reece of Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County expressed concerns. While the governor limited groups to 50, McMahan said "we felt we needed to work toward protecting our community from gatherings larger than 10 at this time," according to the letter.
Churches are still able to conduct services through online, webinars, Facebook or other social media platforms as long as no more than 10 people physically meet in a church building or venue.
The order is effective until 11:59 p.m. April 11 or until it is extended, rescinded, superseded or amended in writing by the health commissioner.
The same day as McMahan's order the Indiana State Department of Health reported the death of the fourth Hoosier from COVID-19. The patient was a Delaware County adult over age 60 who had been hospitalized. At that point, 126 Hoosiers have contracted COVID-19. All but one are adults. Over 800 people statewide have been tested.
Allen County has four residents who have been confirmed to have COVID-19. Worldwide, over 300,000 cases have been confirmed with nearly 13,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.