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Clearwater church back to online-only services after staff test positive for coronavirus

Many other churches in the Tampa Bay area are continuing in-person services with precautions.

A large church in Pinellas County decided Thursday to return to online-only services after six church staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Two of the staff members are in the hospital.

Calvary Baptist Church pastor Willy Rice announced in a Facebook video Thursday that services would take place online for the month of July. The church had gone back to in-person services June 4 after doing online-only services for two months, according to Calvary’s Facebook page. While cases of the coronavirus continue to surge in Florida, most other churches in the Tampa Bay area are continuing to conduct services in person.

“We felt like once there were positive cases among our staff that the right thing to do for our church and our community is to step back and do online only,” Rice said in an interview. “We just need a rest stop because we need to make sure it doesn’t go any further and our community as well as our church family can get beyond these spiking numbers.”

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Rice said two staff members were in the hospital after contracting the virus. He said he hasn’t been tested for the virus but hasn’t shown any symptoms. Rice said he was aware of other cases among congregants and students at Calvary Christian High School, but he didn’t have specific numbers.

Calvary, Clearwater’s oldest church, has 6,000 to 7,000 active members across its three campuses, Rice said. He said he didn’t think anything the church did led to positive cases among the staff and congregation.

“We were very, very careful,” Rice said.

He said when the church reopened in June, he encouraged people to follow government guidelines on wearing masks and social-distancing. The church also added additional times for services to make it easier to socially distance.

At least one other church, First Christian Church in Clearwater, went back to online-only services in June, according to its Facebook page. But many others are continuing in-person services while taking precautions to combat the spread of the virus.

Catholic churches in the five counties served by the Diocese of St. Petersburg are continuing in-person Mass, Diocese spokesperson Teresa Peterson said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. The five counties are Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus.

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The Diocese has “strongly urged” parishioners to wear face coverings inside churches, Peterson wrote. She said the churches’ occupancy levels have been reduced and people are practicing social distancing at church services. Mass is being live-streamed at a majority of the churches for people who are sick or prefer to stay home.

“We are monitoring news about cases, hospitalizations and deaths relating to COVID-19,” Peterson wrote in the email. “We pray daily for all who are impacted by COVID-19 and for an end to the pandemic.”

Related: Florida adds record 120 coronavirus deaths, 411 hospitalizations on Thursday