Coronavirus may have spread at a church service. Now the pastor is speaking out

A cell, in greenish brown, heavily infected with the coronavirus, officially called SARS-CoV-2, that causes the COVID-19 disease.
A cell, in greenish brown, heavily infected with the coronavirus, officially called SARS-CoV-2, that causes the COVID-19 disease.
(National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—Integrated Research Facility)

A Butte County pastor who defied public health officials and held an in-person Mother’s Day service that potentially exposed 180 congregants to the coronavirus has spoken out about his decision on social media.

In a Facebook post on Friday, pastor Mike Jacobsen of Palermo Bible Family Church said that an asymptomatic congregant who attended the May 11 service woke up the next morning “needing medical attention” and was tested for the coronavirus that day. The congregant received positive test results for COVID-19 two days later.

Jacobsen, who with his wife has led the pentecostal church since 2008, said in the post that he would “never with knowledge put anyone in harms [sic] way.”


“For 7 weeks we have been kept out of our church and away from our church family,” Jacobsen wrote in the post, which has since been deleted. “I am fully aware that some people may not understand that for our church it is essential to be together in fellowship.”

Reached by phone Sunday night, Jacobsen confirmed that his church was the site of possible contagion, but declined to immediately comment on the situation, saying he needed some time to think about it before making a statement.

Without naming the church, Butte County health officials on Friday issued a warning to residents, asking them to not speed through the reopening process. The officials said it had come to their attention that nearly 200 people could have been exposed to the coronavirus through the Mother’s Day service.

“At this time, organizations that hold in-person services or gatherings are putting the health and safety of their congregations, the general public and our local ability to open up at great risk,” Danette York, county public health director, said in a statement that urged residents to follow stay-at-home orders.

Local health officials are attempting to notify every person who attended the service and instruct them to self-quarantine. They are also are working with healthcare partners to obtain testing for all attendees, the news release said.

Butte County is one of 22 counties that has certified to the state that it meets the conditions for additional businesses to reopen. But gatherings of any size remain prohibited, even in counties that are reopening more quickly than the rest of California.

“Moving too quickly through the reopening process can cause a major setback and could require us to revert back to more restrictive measures,” York said.

On Wednesday, Jacobsen spoke of his decision to open the church on Mother’s Day during a Facebook Live Bible study.

Jacobsen said it’s important for Palermo Bible’s many young, new believers to be supported in their fledgling faith — and part of that is being able to attend church in person. He compared the act of depriving these congregants of in-person worship to taking “an infant out of the arms of its mother.”


“We’ve really tried to raise the bar and do a good job with what we’ve been given,” Jacobsen said of virtual services, “but it’s not the same as being together in fellowship with one another.”

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May 10, 2020