The great church COVID-19 plague that wasn't

Tuesday, July 28, 2020
 | 
Janet Mefferd - Guest Columnist
https://janetmefferd.com/

Janet MefferdThe next time you see the media blaming Christians for the spread of coronavirus, keep this in mind: You’re not reading journalism. You’re reading leftist-activist garbage journalism, thinly disguised as reporting. 


AI.com church headlineHave you heard the news? Christianity causes COVID-19!

Not really. But you might be tempted to think so, given some of the denunciatory articles and reports from mainstream journalists, who are only too happy every day to insinuate — or outright tell you — that churches are the main reason for the spread of COVID-19. Here are a few of the recent headlines:

  • Churches Were Eager to Reopen. Now They Are Confronting Coronavirus Cases” (The New York Times, 7/6/20)
  • Florida teen who died of COVID-19 attended large church gathering, was given hydroxychloroquine at home” (ABC News, 7/7/20)
  • Churches continue services despite increasing COVID-19 numbers” (WYMT.com, 7/26/20)
  • A small Alabama church had a revival and now 40 people have coronavirus” (AL.com, 7/26/20)

Panic! Sound the alarm! Close all the churches! (Oh, wait — California Gov. Gavin Newsom already did that. Never mind.)

But let’s take a closer look at the erroneous claims that most of the blame for this health pandemonium lies with Christians.

First, to The New York Times, which trumpeted on July 8: “New outbreaks of the coronavirus are surging through churches across the country where services are resumed!” Further, the reporters wrote, “the virus rages through Texas, Arizona and other evangelical bastions of the South and West!” And, they further screech, “one of the world’s first mass coronavirus outbreaks occurred in a secretive South Korean church!”

Surging? Rages? Hey, don’t question the experts. Using its highly scientific and non-analyzable-by-the-public “New York Times database,” the Gray Lady reported that it had “linked” 650 coronavirus cases to “nearly” 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic. First of all, that works out to roughly 16 cases per site, when we don’t even know how many people actually attended any of these services or events. Hardly the stuff of the Black Plague, not to mention that the NYT never relays how many of those people, y’know, recovered.

And what, exactly, does “linked” mean? Does that mean every single person who came down with coronavirus and had been present at one of these services or events definitively contracted the virus at the church or event, per contact tracing and the solid data provided by local health departments?

Aw, who knows? The story doesn’t go into that silly kind of stuff. The point is the impression: CHURCHES. CORONAVIRUS. LINKED. Get it?

Unfortunately, Reason.com didn’t get what The New York Times was claiming, either, noting on July 8 that the churches “tied to COVID-19 infections represent around 0.01 percent of Christian congregations.” It added:

The number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in the United States is now 3.1 million, meaning the church-related cases identified by the Times account for 0.02 percent of the total. On the face of it, that does not seem like ‘a major source of coronavirus cases.’ And there are something like 385,000 churches in the U.S., so the ones tied to COVID-19 infections represent around 0.01 percent of Christian congregations.

Also note that the Times is talking about church-related infections ‘since the beginning of the pandemic,’ so its tally of 650 does not even tell us what has happened since services resumed after lockdowns were lifted, which is ostensibly the story’s focus. The article says ‘many’ of those infections happened during the last month, but it never says how many.

More to the point, the Times never says how churches compare to other settings—such as bars, restaurants, offices, factories, house parties, and Memorial Day or Independence Day gatherings—as a source of virus transmission. Even if half of the infections tallied by the Times happened recently, that would still mean other sources account for around 99.8 percent of newly confirmed cases since mid-May, when testing should have begun detecting post-lockdown infections.

Such skepticism! Look, America, we all know The New York Times is the gold standard of reporting, right? Especially when it comes to reporting completely factual information about the “links” between COVID-19 cases and Christians.

After all, remember that March 29 story it printed about Christians at Liberty University irresponsibly setting the stage for spreading COVID-19, under the headline, “Liberty University Brings Back Its Students, and Coronavirus Fears, Too?” It even added the helpful subhed: “The decision by the school’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., to partly reopen his evangelical university enraged residents of Lynchburg, Va. Then students started getting sick.”

The next day, opinion columnist Paul Krugman published another very informative, gold-standard piece, entitled, “This Land of Denial and Death: Covid-19 and the dark side of American exceptionalism,” in which he opined:

What lies behind Republican science denial? The answer seems to be a combination of fealty to special interests and fealty to evangelical Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr., who dismissed the coronavirus as a plot against Trump, then reopened his university despite health officials’ warnings, and seems to have created his own personal viral hot spot.”

Sadly, these convulsive reports didn’t end so well for The New York Times, because in response, Liberty University recently filed a 55-page, $10 million lawsuit against the newspaper, also seeking $350,000 in punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

On July 15, Jerry Falwell Jr. tweeted out the reason: “Today Liberty University sued The New York Times because they came to our campus from actual virus hotspots and made up completely false claims about COVID-19 cases at Liberty. In fact we finished the school year without a single reported case of COVID-19 on campus.”

In a statement, Falwell added: “We are holding the New York Times accountable for their malicious and false reporting and their violation of the measures we took to protect our students. Politically-motivated attacks by the mainstream news media that defame and libel conservatives and Christians should not be allowed in the United States of America and will not be tolerated by Liberty University.”

But … the NYT database! The database!

And it’s not just The New York Times producing schlock reporting on the alleged “links” between coronavirus cases and Christians. Head on over to ABC News, which announced on July 7: “Florida teen who died of COVID-19 attended large church gathering, was given hydroxychloroquine at home.” Follow-up subhed: “A Florida church has refuted allegations that it was a ‘COVID party.'” The story concerned the tragic news that Carsyn Leigh Davis of Fort Myers died of complications from COVID-19 just two days after turning 17.

ABC News reported:

A Florida teenager who died of complications from COVID-19 had attended a church event with a hundred other children two weeks before her death .. According to the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s report, Davis attended a ‘church function’ on June 10 with 100 other children. She did not wear a mask and social distancing was not followed, the report states. On the same day of the church event, her parents began a six-day treatment of the antibiotic azithromycin, the report says.

Why would the parents — Carsyn’s mother is a nurse — start their daughter on an antibiotic on June 10, the day of the church event, when she wasn’t even sick? ABC News didn’t even appear to have asked that question, reporting instead that Carsyn didn’t show signs of illness until three days afterward: “On June 13, Davis developed what her family thought was a sinus infection. On June 19, her mother, who is a nurse, thought Davis looked ‘gray’ and tested her oxygen saturation, which was in the 40s, according to the report.”

On June 19, the site reports, Carsyn’s parents “took her to a local hospital. She was then transferred to the Golisano Hospital Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where she tested positive for COVID-19.”

So Carsyn attended the church event on June 10, with about 100 other children. She started showing sinus-infection-like symptoms on June 13. She later died of COVID-19, after testing positive. 

Then, the church-kicking begins:

Davis’ death has drawn national attention amid allegations that the church function was a so-called ‘COVID party,’ where partygoers compete to see who can catch the virus. First Assembly of God refuted that claim on Tuesday, saying the reports are ‘absolutely false and defamatory.‘”

Nice to know there was no COVID party, ABC News. Then WHY ARE YOU REPORTING the false allegation? Why else, but to vilify the church for holding the event that killed 100 children? Oh, wait — that’s incorrect. Aside from Carsyn’s case, ABC News didn’t mention any other case coming out of the church event. But it did note that: “Davis had a ‘complex medical history,’ according to the report, including a rare inflammatory neurological disorder as a child and morbid obesity. In a statement posted to a GoFundMe for the family, Davis’ mother, Carole Brunton Davis, said her daughter ‘fought health challenges from the age of 2,’ including cancer and a rare autoimmune disorder.”

But the church was to blame! The church did it! We know this, because ABC News quoted a tweet about the situation from a medical professional its reporters didn’t even bother to interview, who had no known association with Carsyn or the church. Dr. Dara Kass, an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University School of Medicine, tweeted “that even if the point of the event wasn’t to get COVID-19, ‘it was the likely outcome.'” As for the county health department? It was “unable to comment.” Oh.

There is another significant issue that is never addressed in the story: How was it that Carsyn showed symptoms of COVID-19 only three days after the church event, when the CDC has stated of the COVID-19 incubation period, “We now know that someone can be infected with the virus for 2–14 days before they feel sick and that some people never feel sick?”

The median incubation period for coronavirus, meanwhile, is closer to a week. “The median incubation period for the novel coronavirus is about 5 days—which is similar to SARS, according to a paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. … And one early study done in Wuhan based on 88 confirmed cases estimated that the median incubation period was 6.4 days.” 

To sum up: Carsyn presented with COVID-19 symptoms a mere three days after alleged (but unproven) exposure to COVID-19 at the church event, so yes, there is a small possibility that — even with that extremely short incubation period — that may be where she contracted it. But ABC News doesn’t know that for a fact, nor does anyone else.

It gets worse. ABC News failed to name even one other person at the church event who had a confirmed case of coronavirus. And if no other coronavirus cases are linked to that church event, from whom did Carsyn actually contract COVID-19? Isn’t that a rather gaping hole? Yet the article is quick to gratuitously throw in that the church was “alleged” to have had a COVID-19 party … that it didn’t. How about less Christian bashing, more actual reporting, ABC News?

Q: Could Carsyn possibly have contracted coronavirus before June 10, somewhere else than at the church? Is that even a plausible option? I’m just spitballing here.

This is what I have begun to characterize as “Garbage Journalism.” It’s pure garbage: hysterical propaganda, wild conclusions that a church bears blame for the death of a child, presented with no actual scientific evidence to back up its claims. And I could cite story after story after story like this: Church cases are “linked” to COVID-19! Of course, we can’t actually prove it and don’t prove it! And we never do these kinds of impassioned “COVID-19 trend” stories about big-box stores or Leftist protests! But trust us!

I’ll cite just one more example, courtesy of Al.com today: “A small Alabama church had a revival and now 40 people have coronavirus.” It reports:

More than 40 people have coronavirus after attending a week-long revival at a small north Alabama Baptist church (Warrior Creek Missionary Baptist Church), pastor Daryl Ross said today.  … ‘We had church Wednesday night. We were in revival, morning and night services,’ Ross said. ‘On the way back over Thursday is when we found out. I got a call that one of our guys in the church has tested positive. So, we shut down revival and, by Friday night, I’ve got church members sick everywhere.’.. We just know we had a guy tested positive right in the middle of the revival.'”

The story doesn’t tell the reader when the revival began, which would have been helpful. But let’s say it started on Monday. Again, if everyone got sick by Friday, that means the lion’s share of the church presented with symptoms a mere four days after exposure. Remember: the median incubation period for COVID-19 is five days, so it’s pretty statistically amazing that all these people contracted the virus and presented symptoms for it that quickly after attending a revival.

Is it possible that some of these churchgoers contracted COVID-19 somewhere besides the church? Journalists are actually trained to ask these kinds of questions, but they don’t seem to want to know.

But it’s funny – isn’t it? – how, judging by media reports, Leftist riots always seem to give its participants an invisible cloaking device against the coronavirus. And stories about 74 Amazon warehouses having COVID-19 cases in mid-April seem to have just disappeared into the ether. 

I’m not saying no one ever contracts COVID-19 at church. I’m not saying there have been no outbreaks of COVID-19 at any Christian gathering. What I’m saying is that the media is all too quick to place blanket blame on churches for coronavirus cases, without real proof and without applying similar journalistic “digging” to any other kind of event. And if you scour most of these “churches widely spread COVID-19!” stories for solid proof of the claim, it’s just not there. It’s circumstantial evidence at best, always leading to the church door. At worst, it’s just made up, resulting in multi-million-dollar lawsuits from Christians who’ve had enough of the lying. It’s irresponsible Fake News. Even some pastors are starting to get this.

So the next time you see the media blaming Christians for the spread of coronavirus, keep this in mind: You’re not reading journalism. You’re reading Leftist-activist Garbage Journalism, thinly disguised as reporting. The kind you should wad into a big ball and throw into the nearest garbage can at your first opportunity.


Janet Mefferd is the host of "Janet Mefferd Today," reaching more than 240 radio stations nationwide. A former news and religion reporter and editor for newspapers including The Dallas Morning News and the Daily Herald, Janet also has more than 25 years of Christian broadcasting experience.

This column is printed with permission. Opinions expressed in 'Perspectives' columns published by OneNewsNow.com are the sole responsibility of the article's author(s), or of the person(s) or organization(s) quoted therein, and do not necessarily represent those of the staff or management of, or advertisers who support the American Family News Network, OneNewsNow.com, our parent organization or its other affiliates.

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