Among the new outbreaks reported in Mesa County so far in 2021, all of them have occurred at local churches.

Mesa County Public Health Executive Director Jeff Kuhr said as of Thursday afternoon there are 12 churches in the community that have an active COVID-19 outbreak.

“It’s definitely a concern,” he said. “In total it is about 104 cases so some of the outbreaks are very small.”

An outbreak is considered an outbreak when two or more contacts are identified as having active COVID-19 cases at a particular site. When an outbreak is identified, the MCPH epidemiology outreach team works to limit the spread of the virus.

Kuhr said he’s reached out to pastors and church leaders to discuss what they can do differently. “We’re in the process of letting all the places of worship know about some of the things we’ve seen recently,” he said. “We want them to know this is how you can stay ahead of it and prevent it in your facility.”

There’s a familiarity that comes with going to church, often with family, and Kuhr believes that communal aspect may have played a role in the recent cases.

According to Mesa County’s COVID-19 case data from the past 14 days, nearly 62% have been linked to cases through close contact with a family member. That number is less than 24% since the pandemic started.

“Churches are an extension of family. With that sense of family you tend to let your guard down and make mistakes,” Kuhr said. “We’ve seen some inconsistent masks wearing, choir … but I don’t want people to think it’s just from Sunday gatherings. There have been cases linked to bible study youth groups and other activities.”

Opening up churches has been a topic discussed since the pandemic started. As the state looked to restrict in-person gatherings, Kuhr remained a strong advocate for opening up local churches to larger gatherings, particularly when Mesa County cases were still low over the summer. Mesa County didn’t have its first reported outbreak until July last year.

Kuhr admitted that now a nearly a year into the pandemic he understands people just want to get back to normal.

“We might have gotten a little relaxed but it’s time for a reset and getting back to social distancing and mask use,” Kuhr said. “I want churches to thrive.”

An outbreak is resolved if no additional cases are reported for 28 days.

Overall, case counts in the county have stayed relatively low. MCPH reported 110 new cases on Thursday and that was the first triple digit day in Mesa County since Jan. 28.

The two-week total is 1,114 cases.

Vaccine distribution is also ongoing with over 11,000 doses given out and over 2,500 people completely inoculated since mid-Dec.