Crossroads Community Church, a popular pentecostal congregation in Fitchburg, is the epicenter of a growing coronavirus outbreak in the city and surrounding areas. Here’s what we know so far:
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases linked to the church rose by more than 50 last week.
As of Nov. 6, more than 200 cases of COVID-19 have been traced to Crossroads Community Church. That’s up from nearly 150 cases on Oct. 31. The Fitchburg Health Department has also identified more than 200 contacts of those confirmed cases.
According to Stephen Curry, the city’s director of public health, confirmed infections and contacts have affected more than 75 businesses and 22 cities and towns. More than 80 percent of the COVID-19 infections are now symptomatic.
More than 40 additional cases in Fitchburg have been tied to local hockey leagues. The city has not updated the number of confirmed cases connected to the programs.
Fitchburg is now considered a “high-risk” community for coronavirus spread.
The average daily incidence rate of COVID-19 infections in Fitchburg is 39.2 cases per 100,000 residents, putting the city in the “red zone” under state’s health metrics. The positivity rate over the last 14 days is 6.62 percent.
According to a statement from Curry on Nov. 6, the Fitchburg Health Department is “exploring moving backwards” in the Governor Charlie Baker’s phased reopening plan to curb the spread of the virus. What that would mean is unclear. Fitchburg officials did not return requests for comment to the Globe Monday.
The church will not be reopening anytime soon.
In an e-mail to congregants on Friday, Nov. 6, the Crossroads’s lead pastor, Bryan Tomes, said in-person services will remain canceled for the next two weeks. In the meantime, Tomes said, the church will be cleaning its facilities and upgrading the air handlers.
“In addition, we want to let you know that we are working diligently with the Board of Health to mend relationships and ensure the safest reopen possible,” Tomes said in the e-mail.
Crossroads has been closed since Oct. 21, when the state Department of Labor Standards issued a written warning to the church for flouting the state’s COVID-19 health protocols. The DLS first investigated complaints about safety violations at the church in late September.
Little or no mask-wearing or social distancing occurred at the church, in violation of the state’s health guidelines.
Photos and videos of services on Crossroads’s Facebook page show little to no distancing or mask-wearing among worshippers, pastors, choir members, and musicians inside the church.
A former congregant told the Globe that Sunday services at Crossroads drew as many as 200 worshippers. Although face masks and hand-sanitizer were offered, no one on Crossroads’s staff enforced distancing or mask-wearing. Consequently, “very few people” wore face-coverings or kept their distance during services, the congregant said.
Under the state’s safety standards, houses of worship are required to operate at limited capacity, and all staffers and worshippers must wear face coverings, with exceptions for people with medical conditions and celebrants conducting services at a distance.
Crossroads’s lead pastor has downplayed the seriousness of the virus before.
In a video posted March 31 on the church’s Facebook page, Tomes, unmasked and seated closely with nine unmasked members of his staff, accuses the media of “fear-mongering” about COVID-19. In the same video, he tells worshippers if they apply oil over the doorposts of their homes, God would “honor our action” and the “Angel of Death will go right over it.”
Tomes has not responded to repeated requests for comment from the Globe.
Deanna Pan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @DDpan.