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Officials: 2 California Church Services Sources Of Virus Outbreaks

General overall view of the cross atop the St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church...

Photo by Kirby Lee / AP

Above: General overall view of the cross atop the St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church amid the global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Sunday, April 26, 2020, in Monterey Park, Calif.

As Gov. Gavin Newsom prepares to release plans for how religious institutions can reopen in California during the coronavirus pandemic, health officials announced that two church services that were held without authorization have been sources of outbreaks.

Mendocino County public health officials said Sunday that six more people who participated in a Mother’s Day service at Assembly of God Church in Redwood Valley contracted the virus, raising the number of cases to nine and making the outbreak responsible for a third of local infections.

Meanwhile, Butte County health officials said two of 180 people who attended a Mother’s Day church service in Oroville have tested positive for COVID-19. They said a recent spike in local cases, mostly in the Oroville area, indicate increased community spread.

Newsom was expected to provide plans Monday on reopening churches.

Some places of worship around the country opened their doors over the weekend after President Donald Trump declared such places essential and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines for reopening faith organizations.

Newsom has taken a more cautious approach: Last week, many counties in California had received approval to reopen businesses including retail shops and restaurants as permitted in the second phase of his plan to restart the state economy. Churches are not allowed to reopen until the plan’s third phase.

The approach has angered opponents who claim that California’s rules to stop the spread of the virus violate religious freedoms. Many had already announced they would violate the state order and hold in-person services next Sunday, on Pentecost.

A Pentecostal church in San Diego sued to reopen immediately but lost its appeal on Friday when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Newsom’s ban on in-person services. In a split ruling, a court panel found that government’s emergency powers override what in normal times would be fundamental constitutional rights.

Stay-at-home restrictions have eased across much of the state, which has seen a decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Some 47 of 58 counties have received permission to move deeper into the second of Newsom's four-phase reopening by meeting state standards for controlling the virus.

California has close to 93,000 confirmed cases and nearly 3,800 deaths, state health officials said.

The state is still seeing troubling COVID-19 flare-ups. More than 150 employees at a Farmer John meatpacking plant in Vernon, an industrial city five miles south of downtown Los Angeles, contracted the coronavirus. Imperial County, across the border from Mexico, has seen a surge. Two inmates from the California Institution for Men in San Bernardino County died Sunday from what appear to be complications related to COVID-19, raising the death toll to nine, state corrections officials said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Daisy Nguyen reported from Oakland, California. AP photographers Jeff Chiu in San Francisco and Marcio Sanchez in Newport Beach, California, contributed to this report.

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