This article has been updated.
A church in Murray says a visitor who attended the church’s service Sunday, March 15, has tested positive for the new coronavirus.
University Church of Christ Senior Minister Charley Bazzell said church leadership received a call Thursday afternoon from the Calloway County Health Department, alerting them that “an out-of-town visitor” tested positive for COVID-19. He said details regarding where the individual was from were not shared with him.
In a now deleted post on Facebook, University Church of Christ leadership strongly urged service attendees to self-quarantine for 10 days. Attendees were also advised to isolate themselves from others who live with them.
“Initially, obviously I was distraught and concerned for those who were here,” Bazzell said. “We wanted to get the word out to them. And again, at the advice of what I assume to be officials in our county, we did that to the best of our ability. We have since paid a pretty heavy price for that.”
He said a little under 150 people attended the service on Sunday, about half the normal attendance. Governor Andy Behsear requested on March 11 that churches cancel weekend services to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Bazzell said his church held service, despite Beshear’s request, because he felt his church had taken necessary precautionary steps to protect his members.
“The best of my understanding, the recommendations were suggested,” he said. “I understand many are going to disagree with that now. And that’s where we are.”
He said some of those precautionary measures taken by the church that Sunday include telling elderly members not to join the service if they felt uncomfortable, shortening the service to 30 minutes, serving communion with gloves, and encouraging members to practice social distancing during the service.
“Right or wrong, people are going to determine and decide what they want to believe,” he said. “I don’t know if I could say anything that could make any difference. So I probably won’t even try at this time.”
Bazzell said church leadership Wednesday night decided to cancel services through the end of the month because of federal recommendations against gatherings of 10 people or more.
“We were concerned about releasing [the information] on social media. In fact, we returned a call to the health department to question if we should release it on social media,” he said. “That’s not an excuse. I’m not trying to deflect any responsibility we might share for our actions.”
The Calloway County Health Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In a separate Facebook post, Murray-Calloway County Hospital said there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the county as of Thursday evening. Yet, the hospital recommends taking actions as if there are confirmed cases in the county to help better prevent the spread of the COVID-19.
Beshear announced Tuesday west Kentucky’s first positive case of coronavirus, a 69-year-old Lyon County man. Beshear also announced Thursday a 61-year-old Christian County woman tested positive for the virus.
Correction: A previous version of this article listed Charley Bazzell's title as "Senior Pastor". His title is Senior Minister. The spelling of Bazzell's name was also corrected.