The Colorado religious organization suing Gov. Jared Polis over limits on large gatherings during the pandemic hosted a summer event in defiance of public health orders that led to as many as 63 coronavirus infections and one death, according to state records.
Andrew Wommack Ministries sued Polis last week, ahead of its Pastor’s Conference scheduled to start Monday night at Charis Bible College in Woodland Park — an event expected to draw more than 600 attendees. The organization asked a judge to exempt it from what it argues is an unconstitutional 175-person cap on indoor gatherings.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday denied the ministry’s request for emergency relief from the state’s public health orders ahead of this week’s conference. A U.S. District Court judge similarly denied the group’s request last week. The overall lawsuit is still pending.
The organization’s summer family Bible conference around July 4 in Woodland Park saw a significant COVID-19 outbreak, and state officials who are fighting attempts by the group’s leaders to hold additional large in-person events are concerned they may cause additional outbreaks.
“The (July) event resulted in the largest outbreak in Teller County,” state attorneys wrote in a Sunday court filing. About 800 to 1,000 people attended that conference.
Teller County Coroner Kayla Daugherty said Monday she couldn’t release any information on the COVID-19 death connected to the Bible conference outbreak, and it was not immediately clear when the person died. The death first was included in the state’s outbreak database, which is updated weekly, on Sept. 23.
A spokeswoman for Teller County Public Health did not immediately return a request for comment.
Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, the conservative nonprofit legal organization that is representing Andrew Wommack Ministries in its lawsuit, said the person who died was an elderly man, and that while the man did attend the Bible conference, state officials can’t prove he or anyone else actually contracted the novel coronavirus at that event.
“Certainly our heart and prayers go out to the family,” he said. “But even with that one, there is no way to know where that individual contracted COVID.”
He said the man began showing symptoms within a couple days of the summer conference, and said attendees had been warned not to attend if they were sick or were considered to be high-risk for the virus.
Twenty-four staff members and 16 attendees were confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 after the conference, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s outbreak database, while another 22 staff members and one attendee had probable cases of the virus. The person who died had a confirmed coronavirus infection, according to state records.
The Colorado Attorney General’s Office sent a cease-and-desist letter to Andrew Wommack Ministries during the July conference over event organizers’ decision to exceed the 175-person limit for indoor gatherings.
The organization responded by saying it was following coronavirus precautions like social distancing and sanitation, and that the 1,000 attendees at the conference still represented less than half the capacity of the 3,200-seat worship center.
Staver said Monday that he thinks the Pastor’s Conference can go forward safely in-person, but also said the organization is considering streaming the event to various rooms in order to comply with public health orders. He said the college has been operating without any coronavirus infections for several weeks.
Denver Post reporter Meg Wingerter contributed to this report.
This content was originally published here.