NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – Tennessee health officials linked a small group of coronaviruses to last month’s meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville’s first large-scale conference after restrictions on gatherings were lifted, The Tennessean reported.
Metro public health epidemiologist Leslie Waller said eight to 10 infections were detected among the more than 18,000 participants, but the group is almost certainly larger. It’s unclear how many more cases there might be as most of the participants live out of state, Waller said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an alert asking health officials in other states to contact Metro Health if they discover any other infections that date back to the event.
Jonathan Howe, spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee, said the organization had not alerted participants to the cluster and was working with city and state health officials to identify its next steps.
Nashville lifted its mask mandate and collection restrictions a month before the two-day annual meeting of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination in mid-June. Participants crowded into an 18,000-seat convention hall that only included a small section for people wishing to wear masks.
The rally may also have drawn a crowd with a low vaccination rate. In a March poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 40% of white evangelical Protestants said they likely will not get vaccinated, compared to 25% of all Americans, 28% of white Protestants, and 27% of non-Protestants. white.
The Baptist event was a long-awaited revival of Nashville’s lucrative convention industry. Before the pandemic, conferences like this made up 40% of Nashville tourism businesses, according to the Nashville Convention and Visitor’s Corp.