CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases linked to the United House of Prayer's convocation events continues to spiral out of control, with at least 146 cases linked to the event.
More than 1,000 people attended the week-long services held at the north Charlotte church from October 4-11. The increase in cases is a heartbreaking update that hits too close to home for County Commissioner Vilma Leake.
"The convocation, I attend it every year," said Leake who represents District 2, which includes the House of Prayer. "I did not go this year because of the problems of the virus, it saddens me to hear about the lives lost."
During Tuesday's commissioner meeting, Leake revealed she's been in contact with church leaders, making her one of the very few people who talk to them since the outbreak.
"The basic conversation is what role can we play here in Charlotte to help make it better for our constituents who attended the convocation," Leake said.
Last week, the church declined an offer from Mecklenburg County to host testing sties at the House of Prayer. Members told WCNC Charlotte's Billie Jean Shaw the bishop refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of the virus and for months has sent letters instructing members to continue attending services.
In one letter, the bishop references the pandemic, telling the congregation, "they will be alright...get strength."
In another, he tells members attending convocation to wear a mask and social distance but calls preventative measures an "inconvenience." Out of concern for the health and safety of the public, the county ordered the church to close its doors until at least November 5.
Leake said the church still hasn't responded to the order.
"They said they would respond in communication with the health department but that has not happened yet," Leake said.
During Tuesday's meeting, Health Director Gibbie Harris pleaded for the public to do their part in putting an end to the spread.
"We need people to understand the responsibility they have in preventing further spread by avoiding these gatherings," Harris said.
Harris said mass gathering continue to be a primary reason behind the spike of COVID cases in Mecklenburg County, and as we know, the virus does not discriminate.
"There was a large party at a restaurant involving health care workers that resulted in some cases and there was a large party involving high school students that resulted in positive cases," Harris said.