City officials investigate COVID-19 outbreak at Northeast Philly church

City Reach Philly Church in Northeast Philadelphia. (Google Maps)

City Reach Philly Church in Northeast Philadelphia. (Google Maps)

Nine members of a Northeast Philadelphia church from at least five separate households have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health is now investigating the outbreak that occurred at the City Reach Philly Church on Torresdale Avenue in the Tacony neighborhood.

The health department said the first person to test positive started showing symptoms on August 6. Officials believe the number of congregants infected with the virus could be higher than the nine currently known. Contact tracers are working to identify anyone who could have been exposed to the church members who tested positive for the virus.

In-person services at the church have been suspended since August 13.

Anyone who attended City Reach Philly Church in August is being asked to quarantine from others for 14 days and monitor for symptoms.

Pastor Mark Novales said in an email he does not know where the source of any individual infection began, adding that the church has “taken extreme measures to protect the health of those who worship at CityReach.”

“When we were worshipping in person, we encouraged social distancing, had multiple sanitizing stations throughout the church, and only had families who lived together sit together. Masks were also mandatory. In addition, we use a professional-grade ultra-low atomizer disinfection sprayer to sanitize our furniture in between services,” Novales said in the email.

“As we continue to monitor the well-being of our congregants, we welcome your prayers for healing and recovery,” he added. “We continue to place our faith in an all powerful God who will carry through this and any other pandemic.”

Religious services are permitted in Philadelphia, but all congregants and faith leaders must wear masks, attendance is limited to 25 people, singing is not permitted, and attendants must remain at least six feet apart.

Based on the information collected during the investigation, city officials believe the guidelines were not followed “perfectly,” a city spokesperson said.

This is the first outbreak associated with a Philadelphia church that the city is aware of, according to a city spokesperson, but he could not be sure whether other churches closed because of coronavirus cases.

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