Church holds indoor services despite outbreak, health order


SAN DIEGO — Awaken Church in Kearny Mesa defied health orders and held services indoors Sunday, the day after county health officials warned of a coronavirus outbreak at the church.

San Diego County health leaders took the unusual step of identifying Awaken Church as the site of an outbreak because officials hadn’t been able to identify and get in touch with everyone who may have been exposed, the county said. Those who attended in-person services from Nov. 15 to Nov. 22 are asked to quarantine for 14 days, monitor for symptoms and get tested for COVID-19.

“Every church, pastor, and leadership are self-determining. Again, if they’re going to operate indoors, my recommendation is follow all the protocols,” Bishop Arthur Hodges said.

Hodges preaches at South Bay Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and oversees more than 100 churches in Southern California with 25 in San Diego County. He says Awaken Church is not one of them.

“About half of them are continuing indoor services with safe practices. About 30% of them are outdoors and about 20% are still online only,” Hodges said.

The county’s purple tier status on the state’s coronavirus reopening system prohibits churches from holding indoor services. They can open outdoors only with modifications, the state website says.

The county’s health and human services sent a letter to Awaken Church on Monday informing them of the outbreak at their facility.

Hodges wouldn’t say if his church is holding services inside. He said it’s out of an abundance of caution as a lawsuit makes its way to the United States Supreme Court. He’s hoping justices rule in his favor and get rid of all COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship.

“I just will continue to say that we have not had any outbreaks from beginning until now. There’s been no — the church is not a spreader,” Hodges claimed. “We feel pretty confident right now. We feel like the New York decision really was a game-changer.”

It would be an almost identical move to the court’s decision against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The court barred New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by the virus.

“We feel like the Supreme Court now, the strong majority is going to stand behind religious liberties, so we feel good about the future,” Hodges said.

He’s hoping his case gains some momentum this week, saying the Supreme Court could make a decision within the next couple of days.

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