A California higher education institution affiliated with the controversial Bethel Church had more than 120 students and employees test positive for COVID-19 in the past two weeks, local health officials have said.
The Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, based in Redding, had 123 students and staff test positive for the coronavirus, according to Shasta County health officials.
“We have been fortunate enough to have a relatively low number of cases throughout the course of the pandemic,” Kerri Schuette, spokeswoman for the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency, said in a statement reported by the Associated Press Tuesday.
“But we’ve had a very large increase in cases over the past two to three weeks, with 123 being associated with the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.”
The 123 cases tied to BSSM were part of about 500 new cases in Shasta County over the past two weeks, increasing the total number of coronavirus cases in the county since March to 1,158, noted AP.
Bethel Church officials released a statement explaining that the school is taking measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus among faculty and students.
“All students and staff who have been in close contact with these individuals have been instructed to quarantine in their homes as well,” the statement reads, as reported by The Redding Record Searchlight on Wednesday.
“[A] temporary shift to distance learning is being implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our student body and Redding community.”
Bethel had taken certain precautions for its School of Supernatural Ministry in response to the pandemic, including operating at 70% capacity and having freshmen attend classes at the Redding Civic Auditorium.
However, the school does not have dormitories, requiring students to live off-campus.
“We have seen that a primary source of the transmission has occurred in off-campus living situations and social interactions outside of school hours that are common to student life,” the church’s statement adds.
Last week, Bethel acknowledged that several of the new cases in the county came from students and staff.
“The biggest challenge we found is that our students aren’t catching the virus in school,” Kris Vallatton, a senior associate leader at Bethel, told Action News Now. “We don’t have dorms like Simpson. Our students are going back and living in houses with often three or four students in there.”
A message sent by BSSM leadership to students and staff on Aug. 30 stated that it was going to perform COVID-19 testing in early September.
“God is King of all. This virus, too, will bow to the name of Jesus. We are not moving in fear, but in kindness and in ‘going the extra mile’–or ‘test’– to be a blessing to others,” stated the leadership at the time.
In March, Bethel Church announced the suspension of its “faith-healing” ministry in local hospitals, which involved the laying of hands, due to the spread of the coronavirus.
“Though we believe in a God who actively heals today, students are not being encouraged to visit healthcare settings at this time, and moreover, are taught that even under normal circumstances, they must receive permission from both the facility and the individual before engaging in prayer,” Bethel spokesman Aaron Tesauro told The Sacramento Bee at the time.