(RNS) — A recent COVID-19 spike in Northern California’s Shasta County has been partly attributed to the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, a school operated by the Pentecostal megachurch Bethel in the city of Redding.
Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency connected 123 cases to the school over the past two weeks, Tim Mapes, a Shasta County Health spokesperson, confirmed with Religion News Service on Wednesday (Oct. 7).
Mapes didn’t have further specifics on the spread involving the school, which offers classes on life coaching, preaching and career ministry. However, Mapes said, “We do know that a large number of the students often live in close contact in communal housing arrangements.”
County health officials are working with Bethel to mitigate the spread, Mapes said.
Bethel was reached by RNS on Tuesday evening but referred to an Oct. 1 statement in which it acknowledged that a portion of new COVID-19 cases in Shasta County were among its students and staff. Bethel, in the statement, said the church was in “near-daily communication” with the county health department to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In the statement, Bethel said students and staff are required to “wear face coverings at all times, socially distance on campus, self-monitor for symptoms, and undergo daily temperature checks taken at the door.”
Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry planned to entirely shift to online teaching beginning Oct. 5, according to the statement.
“We are working on implementing a second round of testing for our students and staff, and will resume on-campus as we continue conversations with Public Health,” the statement read.
In addition, Bethel canceled “Church on the Ball Field” Sunday services from Oct. 4-11 and asked employees who are able to do so to work from home beginning Oct. 5. People will still be allowed on campus, however, but have to adhere to the county’s social distancing and face covering guidelines.
Early on in the pandemic, Bethel church leaders said they were taking precautions in conducting its ministries.
In March, for example, they discouraged Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry students, who evangelize to strangers as they learn to pray and to heal the sick, from visiting health care settings.
While Bethel and other charismatic churches emphasize spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, healings and modern-day miracles, church leaders said they also believe in wisdom and modern medicine. While originally under the Assemblies of God denomination, the church now identifies as nondenominational.
“We believe that wisdom, modern medicine and faith are meant to work together, and express the value for each in the pursuit of continued health and healing,” Bethel Church spokesman Aaron Tesauro told RNS in March.
Regardless, Shasta County will have to go through tighter COVID-19 restrictions for businesses due to the surge in cases, according to the Record Searchlight.
Health officials said Tuesday that Shasta County, with a population of around 180,000, reached a new milestone over the weekend as the number of confirmed cases topped 1,000 since March.
The county recorded 167 new cases over the weekend, moving the total coronavirus cases since March to 1,158. This was expected to move the county into a new level of regulations on restaurants, bars, theaters and businesses, county health officials said.
Public Health Director Robin Schurig, in the Record Searchlight, said businesses will have three days to comply and the new restrictions will go into effect Friday.
Schurig said the county could face even tighter controls.