Not wanting to take any chances in the midst of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the church canceled all services March 17 after learning of the person’s illness, but before a test result confirmed what they suspected: The person had COVID-19. It was one of Washington County’s first cases, confirmed in a press conference by local officials on March 20.
“As leaders, we want to let everyone know that there has been a confirmed case of COVID-19 within our church family,” Chairman of Elders John Payne wrote to church members on March 23 in an email obtained by the Press. “The Health Department has assessed potential exposures and has contacted individuals who may require additional follow-up.”
Fortunately for the church and its congregation, Boones Creek Christian had already begun implementing social distancing guidelines, cutting the number of congregants in the church at one time from over 1,000 to just a few hundred and eliminating person-to-person contact in the form of hugs and handshakes. According to Senior Minister David Clark, the closest anyone sat to the infected person was about 10 feet.
The decision likely saved countless others from contracting the disease, which has infected more than 1,800 Tennesseans as of Monday afternoon. Asked if the guidelines they implemented prior to the diagnosis played a role in preventing an outbreak in the church, Clark was quick to respond.
“We feel like it did,” he said.
With its response to the positive COVID-19 diagnosis, Boones Creek Christian Church proved itself as an exemplar for how a church can prevent the spread of COVID-19, unlike other churches across the nation that held services despite the pandemic, and saw outbreaks occur within their congregation as a result. As of Monday, no other cases have been reported among the church’s members, and everyone who may have had contact with the infected person has since been released from voluntary quarantines.
“We felt like, to be responsible citizens and responsible Christians, we wanted to protect the entire community from coming together,” Clark said. “It’s very important for us to just be the good citizens that God has called us to be — we did not want to be part of endangering our community.”
And while the church has suspended all gatherings indefinitely, they did bring in cleaning company bioPURE to disinfect their building after the diagnosis, though Payne said they had been contracting bioPURE for “several months,” and it was “not in reaction to” to COVID-19.
The Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department declined to comment on the case’s specifics, citing HIPAA regulations.