WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — Wichita County has seen more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases so far this month.
With the recent spike in cases, local health officials have identified churches as a hotspot for spread of the virus.
Officials from Evangel Temple and First Baptist said the attendance of the church has been down since they reopened in May, and they said they’re doing everything they can to keep everyone safe while they worship.
“Our job is to protect people,” Patti Bateman, Evangel Temple lead pastor, said. “Our job is to lead the way in caring for our community and to try to get out there and meet the need.”
COVID-19 cases continue surging in Wichita County, the week of Oct. 19 to Oct. 23 being the deadliest of the pandemic with eight deaths linked to the virus.
Local health officials list churches as one of the main places of spread, but some churches around the area say they’re worshipping with necessary precautions.
“We’re ask them to wear masks when we can’t social distance. Disinfecting with hospital grade disinfectant,” Bob McCartney, First Baptist Church pastor, said. “One of our physicians came, spoke last week to our congregation encouraging people to wear masks.”
“We do a lot of ministry online. All of our outreach ministries are outside the building,” Bateman said. “We’ve transitioned our monthly food ministry to outside only. We’ve done a lot of adjusting but that’s not been bad.”
Some local religious leaders question the idea that churches are spreading the virus at a higher rate.
“As long as there are 8,000 kids going to school five-days-a-week in the WFISD, thousands of people shopping everyday, why would a few thousand people gathering for two hours a week on a sunday morning be a problem,” McCartney said.
Both pastors said attendance has been low since they reopened in may after a mandatory shutdown.
Some church members said they still feel comfortable worshipping because of their faith.
“Like anybody else, I was fearful but after praying and seeking God’s guidance, I feel very comfortable coming not only to church, but also even to attend other events at my job,” Farai Sithole, Evangel Church attendee.
With both churches streaming their services online, members that don’t feel comfortable coming to the building can watch from home, but for members, like Sithole, the pastors of both churches said their doors are open to worship safely.
Local health officials said schools have done a good job keeping numbers low, because of masks and social distancing.
McCartney also said First Baptist has had to add an extra service to their Sundays, and Bateman said while members can watch services online, there’s just something special about gathering to worship.