REDDING – Coronavirus cases related to an evangelical college in Northern California have doubled to 274 in the past week as the school posted a video on social media of a church leader criticizing masks as "worthless" and ridiculing companies that do Force wearing face coverings.
Shasta County health officials said 274 cases in the county are linked to the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding city, KRCR-TV reported. That number includes 137 cases that were reported last week.
Shasta County currently has the highest incidence rate in any California county, with a new case rate of 19 cases per day per 100,000 people, compared to 6.8 per 100,000 in the state.
Health officials said the outbreak among Bethel school students and staff sparked the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the county, which last week led state officials to re-establish restrictions on restaurants, bars and other businesses there.
The school, Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, is attached to the Bethel Church, an evangelical mega-church in Redding.
A Church-affiliated pastor has been criticized for holding large rallies in the United States despite local health briefings attended by thousands of attendees. Most don't wear face masks and don't practice social distancing.
The update, in increased numbers, came when social media users shared and commented on a since-deleted Instagram video by Beni Johnson, one of the Church's leaders.
In the video, Johnson says she visited "a cute little town on the coast" and stood in line to eat something without wearing a mask.
"There's far too much security in a damn mask that doesn't even work," Johnson says in the video.
She said the people in line had moved away from her and when she got to the counter to order she was told she had to wear a mask even though she pulled her sweatshirt over her mouth.
"If you do scientific research, these masks are worthless," she said, adding that she planned to shop around town. "But now we're not going to shop and give them money because you have to wear a stupid, damn mask that doesn't work."
Medical experts agree that wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings, practicing social distancing, and thorough hand washing are all effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
In a statement on Johnson's comments, Aaron Tesauro, director of Bethel communications, said, "We value each person's freedom to express their personal opinions," reported KRCR-TV.
After the outbreak was first reported last week, the school said it had taken various measures to curb the spread of infection, including switching to online classes and asking its 1,600 students to quarantine themselves. The school said she needed constant face-covering and social distancing, with daily temperature checks being carried out when people enter the school.
On its website, the school describes itself as a "ministry training center," which is not an accredited university, "where our students assume their royal identities, learn the values of the kingdom and walk in the authority and power of the king."