Horseheads church a warning for others

Jeff Murray
Elmira Star-Gazette

Chemung County officials are asking for the public’s help after learning a cluster of COVID-19 cases traced to a church in Horseheads is much larger than they realized—and likely to spread.

Christopher Moss

County health officials originally announced five positive cases of COVID-19, involving people from both Chemung and Schuyler counties, were traced back to Lighthouse Baptist Church, 209 Gardner Road in Horseheads.

The county offered a free testing program Wednesday at the Chemung County Fairgrounds and the results were alarming, County Executive Christopher Moss said during a hastily called Thursday evening news conference.

Forty church members showed up and 19 of them tested positive for the virus, Moss said.

“We have a cluster here. The tracing investigation is ongoing,” he said. “We’re not getting the help from the church we were hoping to get. They said ‘God will look out for them.’ But they are coming in contact with elderly folks and children and the outbreak grows and grows.”

Moss said parishioners or anyone who knows a member of the Lighthouse Baptist Church should reach out immediately to the Chemung County Health Department, or get tested at one of several sites set up by local hospitals.

County Public Health Director Peter Buzzetti said several members of the church attended a wedding in another county recently, and added it’s possible they could have infected other people at that gathering, or conversely could have picked up the disease from them.

“If you attended the (Lighthouse Baptist) church recently, get in touch with the health department and get tested,” Buzzetti said. “We’re seeing community transmission. We know of at least 80 other contacts associated with these patients. This turned out to be pretty concerning from a community transmission standpoint.”

The county was informed of several additional confirmed cases, bringing the total of positive cases associated with the church to 29, Buzzetti said.

As many as five counties could be involved in the cluster, he said.

Chemung County is working with other Southern Tier counties and with the state Department of Health on a contact tracing investigation, Moss said.

“We are on top of it,” he said. “The investigation is ongoing. Hopefully we can contain the numbers.”

Anyone who attended any events at Lighthouse Baptist Church or knows church members is urged to contact the Chemung County Health Department at 607-737-2028.