WAILUKU >> King’s Cathedral &Chapels is pushing back against the state Department of Health’s determination of a COVID- 19 cluster of at least 55 infections among church members, saying the cases were scattered across its two dozen congregations in Maui County.
King’s Cathedral Administrator Kelly Davison said Thursday that when the DOH notified the Maui-based megachurch March 7 that it had detected a cluster, “there were actually five cases across the 24 locations, so it is somewhat subjective to understand was it a cluster and at what locations, what service and at what time.”
Speaking at Maui Mayor Michael Victorino’s daily news briefing, Davison also raised the issue of religious freedom when explaining why the church would not abide by DOH recommendations to suspend in-person events and conduct only virtual services until the cluster was contained.
“The church is classified as an essential institution that is protected by the Constitution of the United States. It is there as a beacon of hope, there to encourage and help people during this time,” Davison said. “That is why we continue to have in-person services, again, following CDC guidelines and working directly with the County of Maui and the Department of Health to make sure we honor authority but also exercise the rights as a church to be able to meet.”
He said King’s Cathedral is currently aware of 33 active coronavirus cases “where a number of people have been healed from COVID or have already passed their quarantine process.”
The DOH on Wednesday took the unusual step of naming King’s Cathedral &Chapels as the source of an “imminent health threat” posed by the coronavirus cluster, whose case numbers had doubled in the past 10 days. The department said that after the first cases were found, subsequent infections occurred as a result of ongoing in-person services, a youth conference and other gatherings, and that “spillover” transmission from the church was linked to cases at a middle school and a workplace.
Against the urging of health officials, King’s Cathedral plans to proceed with Easter Sunday services at its main Kahului sanctuary, with options to attend in- person, on a drive-in basis or online.
Church officials say they have been assiduously observing COVID-19 protocols that include requiring masks, spacing pews 6 feet apart, sanitizing facilities between services and throughout the week, and providing hand sanitizer stations. And due to public health concerns, King’s Cathedral had canceled its popular Easter egg hunts and postponed its Easter stage production, “Indestructible Life,” until April 25 and 26.
At the same Thursday briefing, Maui County Deputy Managing Director Josiah Nishita said that “in the spirit of compromise,” Victorino had offered King’s Cathedral use of War Memorial Stadium as “a safer outdoor alternative.”
Nishita acknowledged that in the wake of the DOH’s Wednesday announcement, the mayor’s office had heard from a number of concerned citizens worried about the cluster at King’s Cathedral and that its ongoing activities would further spread the virus.
“We definitely hear them, we understand the community’s concerns and take them very seriously,” he said. “One thing that’s important for the community to know is that the U.S. Constitution protects the exercise of religious freedom, which means the county cannot take that right away.”
Health officials are urging anyone who attended events hosted by King’s Cathedral in the past 14 days to get tested for COVID-19 immediately and look for symptoms including fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat or loss of taste or smell. Those experiencing symptoms are being advised to self-quarantine and seek medical consultation.