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County offers stadium for King’s Cathedral Easter services

Church moving forward with in-person program amid cluster

King’s Cathedral Administrator Kelly Davison speaks during the county’s news conference on Thursday afternoon. Davison said that King’s Cathedral, which is dealing with a cluster of about 55 cases across multiple congregations, will consider the county’s offer to hold Easter services at War Memorial Stadium as a safer in-person alternative.

Maui County is offering War Memorial Stadium as “a safer outdoor alternative” for King’s Cathedral Easter services, after the church said it planned to continue meeting in person despite a cluster of about 55 COVID-19 cases among its Maui congregations.

“We understand the community’s concerns and take them very seriously,” county Deputy Managing Director Josiah Nishita said during the county’s news conference on Thursday afternoon. “One thing that is important for the community to know is that the U.S. Constitution protects the exercise of religious freedom, which means the county cannot take that right away.”

Nishita added that “in the spirit of compromise, the mayor has offered for an open invitation, if they so choose, to use War Memorial Stadium for Easter services as a safer outdoor alternative.”

The state Department of Health announced Wednesday that the cluster at King’s Cathedral and Chapels had doubled within the past 10 days and warned of an “imminent threat to public health.”

The department encouraged the church to move to virtual services and advised members who attended services within the past two weeks to monitor themselves for symptoms and get tested.

Mayor Michael Victorino said Thursday that he would be supportive of King’s Cathedral’s plans as long as they followed health guidelines such as wearing masks and physical distancing.

King’s Cathedral Senior Pastor James Marocco said the church would cancel its Easter production, which includes a cast of about 150 people, as well as its Easter egg hunt. However, the church is still moving forward with in-person services and will weigh the county’s offer to use War Memorial.

“We would like to work closely with you and have that discussion a little bit further in detail,” said church Administrator Kelly Davison, who appeared at the news conference. “I’m not ready to announce right now exactly how that’s going to happen, but right now I will say that we will have options for people.”

Davison, who disputed the department’s report Wednesday and said that “the accusation that it’s spreading from King’s Cathedral to the community is a false statement,” emphasized Thursday that the church was working with local officials and making efforts to prevent COVID-19 at its facilities.

King’s Cathedral, which has 24 congregations across the county, has been following CDC guidelines by socially distancing in pews by 6 feet, deep cleaning before services and having their procedures evaluated by the Health Department “from time to time,” Davison said.

“We want to be above and beyond reproach when it comes to the cleaning and also be an example to others out there,” he said. “COVID is serious and we also take this very seriously.”

Davison reported that there were five cases across all King’s Cathedral locations when the Health Department first contacted the church about the cluster on March 7 and that there are currently 33 active cases.

He said they are continuing to meet in person because the church provides essential services to the community.

“The church is classified as an essential institution that is protected by the Constitution of the United States,” Davison said. “It is there as a beacon of hope, it is there to encourage and to help people during this time. That is why we continue to have in-person services, again, following CDC guidelines and working directly with the County of Maui, Department of Health, to be able to make sure that we honor authority but also exercise the right as a church to be able to meet.”

Mayor Michael Victorino said that he discussed virtual, drive-thru, open-air ministries and other options when he met with Marocco on Wednesday.

“I assured him that whatever he decided I would support so long as all the guidelines were followed such as wearing a mask, physical distancing and good sanitation, which you’ve heard they have been doing and continue to do, just like every other church around,” Victorino said. “I’m not shutting down churches because one church has had a challenge. I think all of us have had periods of time when we’ve had challenges, but they’ve tried to accommodate and do what is right.”

The mayor added that the situation is different from restaurants and bars, which faced heavier restrictions and temporary shutdowns after they were traced to clusters. Bars, for example, cannot resort to alternatives like drive-thru or virtual services like churches can.

“I’m comfortable in what they’re attempting to do,” Victorino said of King’s Cathedral.

The Health Department said in its weekly cluster report Thursday that because religious activities “are important sources of community, social and emotional support during difficult times,” disease investigators have tried to work with religious leaders and congregations facing clusters to help them continue services safely.

For example, the department worked with a church on Maui to set up virtual religious services and hold educational information sessions following a cluster investigation in February. Maui County also helped the church obtain personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and food assistance for members directly affected by COVID-19.

To help reduce the risk during worship activities, DOH recommends:

• Hosting virtual, remote or drive-in religious services.

• Limiting in-person gatherings to groups of fewer than 10 people and holding activities outdoors or in buildings with high levels of ventilation.

• Providing sanitation stations in and around areas where worship activities take place.

• Wearing masks and limiting activities that require masks to be removed, such as eating or drinking.

• Using physical distancing and avoiding shaking hands, hugging and kissing people outside of a person’s household.

• Employing additional mitigation strategies (e.g. consistent use of masks with two layers of fabric and snug fit around nose and mouth, physical barriers) during high-risk activities such as carpooling and choir practice.

• Helping DOH investigate cases within a religious community by providing any requested information as quickly and completely as possible.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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