• Churches and places of worship are particularly conducive to coronavirus spread, and a new study from Johns Hopkins researchers quantifies just how much that’s the case.
  • The data in this study shows that people who visited a house of worship were some 16 times likelier to be infected with coronavirus during the study period.
  • According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 6.6 million coronavirus infections have now been recorded in the US.

A church leader in Idaho who proudly described himself as a “no-masker” during one particular service at Candlelight Church in Coeur d’Alene — who has also expressed skepticism about coronavirus case data in general — is now in the hospital suffering from the COVID-19 virus.

That church leader is Paul Van Noy, and he’s actually been in the hospital for two weeks now suffering from the coronavirus, according to CNN. Not only that, but five additional staffers at his church were likewise diagnosed with the coronavirus, though they’ve since recovered. It’s all a reminder, as if one is even needed, that the COVID-19 pandemic remains a potent, destructive force around the US right now, and that coronavirus spread in churches and houses of worship is especially problematic.

That’s because of the fact that churchgoers are gathered together in one place, and engaged in activities like singing together, which has been shown to be extra conducive to spreading the coronavirus. In fact, a new study has reaffirmed that visiting a house of worship is actually one of the riskiest things you can do right now during the pandemic.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins studied the behaviors of a random sample of more than 1,000 people in Maryland back in June, and among their findings is that you’re as much as 16 times more likely to contract COVID-19 if you visit a place of worship. The study, available to peruse here, found that people who’d visited a place of worship at least three times in the two weeks before the study were 16 times likelier to be infected by coronavirus than those who had not.

Comparatively, that’s four times more of a risk for infection than the researchers saw in people who had taken public transportation during the same time period.

To be clear, the study and results were not focused on churches and places of worship, per se. It was a larger look at the effects of social distancing in public. “Our findings support the idea that if you’re going out, you should practice social distancing to the extent possible because it does seem strongly associated with a lower chance of getting infected,” senior author Sunil Solomon, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Epidemiology and an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School Medicine, said in a statement about the findings.

Churches can certainly implement and follow safety procedures that make attendance much less risky. However, as we and others have reported, there have been a number of occasions since the start of the pandemic where church gatherings have served as COVID-19 super spreaders, something this new study is yet another reminder of.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.