Participants in the Southern Baptist Convention’s in-person annual meeting in Nashville in mid-June are asked to notify Tennessee health officials if they came down with COVID-19 after attending the enormous gathering.
A small but notable cluster of coronavirus infections has been linked to the annual meeting, which drew more than 15,000 people to Music City Center, where they sat close together in folding chairs for hours of meetings, as well as mingling in an exhibit hall and at dining events.
The Nashville Tennessean reports that this was the first large-scale conference held in the city after it lifted restrictions on large public gatherings.
This was the first large-scale conference held in the city after it lifted restrictions on large public gatherings.
So far, a cluster of about 10 infections has been linked to the SBC annual meeting by Nashville’s Metro Public Health Department. While that number may appear small, it could be misleading because most of the people in attendance don’t live in the area and would have carried the disease back to their home states and cities — with reporting back to Tennessee authorities unlikely.
Of 15,000 registered messengers at the meeting, only 2,000 live in the state of Tennessee.
Metro Health epidemiologist Leslie Waller told the Tennessean the outbreak cluster is almost certainly larger than indicated by the data they currently have. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an alert asking health officials in other states to contact Nashville Metro Health if they discover infections that trace back to the SBC event.
“We have eight to 10 cases confirmed,” Waller said. “Do we assume there are more? Yes. Can we give you any idea as to how many more? No, we can’t.”
Jonathan Howe, a spokesman for the SBC Executive Committee, told the Tennessean SBC officials have not alerted attendees but were working with city and state health officials to identify next steps.
Meanwhile on Twitter, SBC apologists began a trend of mocking the Tennessean’s report as sensationalism by comparing the eight to 10 known cases of COVID to other things they said were more common at the meeting than infections.
For example, Scott Douglas, who holds a doctorate in education from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as a pastor in Parrish, Fla., tweeted: “More people made parliamentary points of order than were affected by covid during the SBC annual meeting. This is silly guys.”
It is impossible to know what percentage of those in attendance at the SBC meeting had been vaccinated or carried antibodies from previous infections, but photographs and videos of the event show vast numbers of people not wearing masks and not social distancing.
Previous national polling showed that white evangelical Christians — a category encompassing most in the SBC — are among the most resistant people in America to being vaccinated. Further reporting indicates this could be linked to general denial of the realities of COVID-19, as there is a strong correlation between SBC membership and believing former President Donald Trump and watching ultra-conservative news outlets.