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Clays Mill Baptist closes doors after some members test positive for virus

Clays Mill Baptist Church, which opened its doors for worship services for two Sundays after a federal judge ruled they could, has closed them again after several members of the congregation tested positive for the coronavirus.

Pastor Jeff Fugate said current plans are to return to services online only until June 21, when it will hold worship in a tent large enough to hold 1,500 people under ordinary circumstances. With restrictions to ensure social distancing, seating may be limited to 200-300 people, he said.

The church at 1220 Brannon Road in Jessamine County, which might have had 2,000 people in attendance on a typical Sunday before the pandemic, opened May 17 and 24, after U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove ruled May 8 in favor of another Jessamine Church, Tabernacle Baptist, which filed suit to lift Gov. Andy Beshear’s restrictions on in-person worship.

The church had opened for staff and their families only on May 10.

Fugate had been part of the effort to reopen churches, standing alongside Attorney General Daniel Cameron in April to call for easing of restrictions, according to the Courier Journal.

Fugate told The Jessamine Journal in a telephone interview Tuesday there is no evidence that at least 17 members of his church got the virus from attending church. Some who did get it haven’t attended services since houses of worship were closed by the governor in March, he said.

“There is no evidence that there is an outbreak of the virus at our church,” Fugate said.

He said the number 17 apparently came from county health officials, but he didn’t say which county.

Clays Mill Baptist is a large congregation with its main worship center located near the Jessamine-Fayette County line.

Fugate said that after some members tested positive, he spoke with Dr. Steve Davis of the Jessamine County Health Department, who told him about how easily the airborne virus can spread.

The coronavirus causes COVID-19, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives across the U.S. since January. As of June 8, there have been at least 11,476 people in Kentucky who have tested positive for the virus and 472 who have died of it or of conditions that may have been made worse by it.

“I care about the health of our people, and I am afraid” of the coronavirus, Fugate said. “I don’t want anybody to get sick.”

As a precaution, Fugate said, he had decided to go back to livestreaming the worship services on Facebook for three weeks, then start having services outdoors.

Fugate said the church had been following the guidelines of the governor and state public health officials. He said that when they resumed services, there was no Sunday school or nursery, every other row of seating was closed off and congregants were asked to wear masks and not shake hands with others present.

In an article published online late Tuesday afternoon by the Lexington Herald-Leader, Jessamine County Director of Public Health Randy Gooch was quoted as saying it was “naive” to think the church services and large number of members who had the virus were not connected.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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