A New Hampshire church’s 10-day indoor prayer service is being linked to a possible COVID-19 outbreak after several people connected to the church tested positive for the coronavirus.
The state’s Department of Health and Human Services said it is investigating the cases at Gate City Church in Nashua, about 40 miles south of Concord.
The church held the multi-day prayer service from Sept. 19 to Sept. 28.
Nashua Public Health Director Bobbie Bagley told local station WMUR that the church required guests to wear face masks when entering and exiting and enforced social distancing but at one point some of the guests removed their masks while inside.
“One of the things that we did learn was during their singing, they took their masks off,” Bagley said. “And we know that when you sing you’re releasing respiratory droplets in the air, so that’s one of the high-risk activities that can occur that can cause exposure in a community.”
The health department said in a press release Wednesday that seven people connected to the church have tested positive for the coronavirus, but Bagley told WMUR that the number of infected is up to nine.
The health department asked that anyone who attended the service get tested for the virus.
The church did not immediately return a request for comment Friday. Pastor Paul Berube released a statement Thursday saying that the church did its best to follow CDC and state guidelines.
“We implemented strict social distancing, physically removing more than half the seats in our facility. We screened our attendees for fever, provided hand sanitizer, required masks when proceeding to or from seats, and posted advisory signs,” the statement read.
“Each and every seat, handrail, and doorknob in our facility was sprayed with disinfectant before and after each meeting. If these infections did occur in our facility, they did so notwithstanding the careful work of our staff, whose efforts likely mitigated even further spread of the infection.”
The church said services will move online for the next few weeks.