Teller County Public Health has attributed a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in the county to visitors to Charis Bible College in Woodland Park.
Through Monday, Andrew Wommack Ministries/Charis Bible College had seven staff members test positive, with eight additional employees who had been in close contact with those infected presumed positive, according to the county health department. In addition, 15 attendees at the June 29-July 3 Summer Family Bible Conference at Charis' Woodland Park campus tested positive, with another four presumed positive.
“The majority of the recent cases have a connection to Andrew Wommack Ministries/Charis Bible College,” said county Commissioner Marc Dettenrieder.
Andrew Wommack Ministries had resisted efforts by the state to shut down its conferences due to the danger of spreading the virus, contending that its First Amendment rights were being violated.
While the Summer Family Bible Conference was going on, the ministry received a cease-and-desist letter from Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser on July 2.
The ministry responded in a letter sent by Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm that promotes Christian religious freedom, that accused Colorado Gov. Jared Polis of permitting mass Black Lives Matter protests that failed to adhere to state public health orders while denying the college the same treatment.
"Liberty Counsel has agreed to represent us and we are fighting back, ministry founder Andrew Wommack posted on his Facebook page. "I believe it is not only our constitutional right but our duty to stop this extreme overreach of government that allows people to riot and pillage but not assemble to worship the Lord.”
Attempts to reach the ministry Friday for comment were unsuccessful.
New cases of COVID-19 in Teller County more than doubled since the beginning of July, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment.
As of Friday, Teller County had recorded 89 cases of COVID-19 and two deaths, according to CDHPE data. That includes 48 new cases since July 3, including the 34 linked to the Bible college.
“Three people were hospitalized; the hospital, Pikes Peak Regional, is running at near capacity,” said Teller County Commissioner Marc Dettenrieder, speaking at the commissioners’ meeting July 23. “They have two beds open and are close to being maxed out.”
As of Friday, Teller County had three outbreaks of COVID-19. The state defines an outbreak as "two or more cases from and event, facility, location or organization."
Two of the new COVID-19 cases were reported at a day care facility in Woodland Park and two at Woodland Park City Hall.
“Our contact tracing has increased here across the county,” Dettenrieder said. “We are in the process of training volunteers and will actually be bringing on temporary employees to help. We have received 400 (COVID-19) test kits.”
The rise in cases puts the county’s state-approved variances at risk, Dettenrieder said. State approval allowed businesses to open sooner than others in the state, but with recommended health guidelines still in place, including the wearing of masks, social distancing and a limited number of people indoors.
The state granted the county a second variance that allowed casinos in Cripple Creek to open June 15. “No cases of COVID have been linked to casinos,” Dettenrieder said. “We send our appreciation to casino operators; they are doing a good job up to this point.”