One Death Linked To Church COVID Cluster In Chemung County

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Updated: 9/17/20 – 1:51 P.M.

TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY (WSKG) – The death of a 76-year-old Chemung County man on Wednesday has been linked to a COVID-19 cluster tied to the Lighthouse Baptist Church in Horseheads, died on Wednesday. His was the fourth COVID-related death in the county this year.*

Pete Buzzetti, Chemung County Public Health Director, made the announcement during a question and answer period on an online town hall on Wednesday.

Celia Clarke/WSKG

Chis Moss (L) Chemung County Executive and Pete Buzzetti (R) Director of Chemung County Health Department in an online town hall related to COVID-19 cluster. September 16, 2020. (Celia Clarke/WSKG)

The man was not a member of the church but had been a contact of a member of the church.

“The fatality was associated with the Lighthouse Baptist Church,” Buzzetti said. “We do feel for the family. We don’t want to lose any of our residents. Certainly, we are working very hard behind the scenes to make sure we can get people in contact with doctors if they need it and things like that, if they need it.”

The county has faced refusals to cooperate with contact tracing from some connected to the church.

Chemung County officials were first informed of a connection to the church through COVID-19 contact tracing being done in Schuyler County.

County Executive Chris Moss, who led Wednesday’s town hall, said the county served a subpoena last week related to its contact tracing and investigation of the cluster.

Moss said the subpoena was necessary because the church was not cooperating with contact tracing. WSKG asked for details of the subpoena but did not immediately receive a response.

“I understand if you believe that God is going to save you whether you come back positive or negative – you’re out in the community, you’re putting other people in jeopardy. You’re going home, you could be putting your parents in jeopardy, your spouse in jeopardy, your children in jeopardy.” Moss said. “So, you have to think of others, not just yourself.”

Cases in the cluster have been linked to employees in county government and the one school in Chemung County.

Officials said they are not sure how the cluster began to spread. Over 50 people across six counties have been linked to the church. Those counties are: Broome, Schuyler, Oneida, Steuben, and Tioga County, New York.

* This story has been updated to include details about the person who died.