SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A church in Sacramento is now at the center of a major outbreak of coronavirus.

County health leaders say at least 71 members of the congregation at the Bethany Slavic Missionary Church have been diagnosed with the virus.

The church didn’t listen. That’s the message from county health leaders.

Most churches across the area have listened to the stay-at-home order and are holding virtual services, but the Bethany Slavic Missionary Church is still meeting in small groups.

Janna Haynes, with the County Health Department, said, “Inside of their community, there is a very real danger here. That is why we want them to stop gathering together.”

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One person has died and the pastor is sick. Sacramento health leaders say the department has made several attempts to talk to church leaders, including phone calls and in-person, but have been unsuccessful in getting them to change their routine.

“I don’t know what the make up is of their congregation. The last thing we want to see is people passing away because they’ve chosen not to comply with the public health order,” said Haynes.

Health leaders believe the meetings have been happening inside members’ homes, and not at the vast 20-acre church campus.

“A smaller group scenario is almost worse in the sense that they’re in a more enclosed area spending a few hours together in close contact. That’s exactly how this virus transmits,” said Haynes.

Meanwhile, at Rivers Of Living Water Church in Sacramento, the Pastor Dan Ostring put a video of Sunday service on YouTube.
He encourages his congregation to show up for services. He calls the stay at home order “Fear-mongering.”

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Public health officials this week said a third of the county’s confirmed cases have been linked to church gatherings.

The health department is relying on education hoping businesses and organizations shut down, on their own.

But the county health director says enforcement is possible.

Dr. Peter Bielensen Said, “We’ve received two or more complaints we would be sending code enforcement starting later this week to make sure people shut down.”

Church leaders say the Bethany Slavic Missionary Church stopped holding services two weeks ago and followed orders.

We did reach family of the Pastor At Rivers Of Living Waters Church, but the pastor did not speak with CBS13.