‘It’s like a personal attack’: New Bedford pastor upset over COVID-19 fines from city after outbreak

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WLNE) – The city of New Bedford has been deemed a high-risk area from the state’s health department after two isolated outbreaks in the city.

According to the New Bedford Health Department, one outbreak was at Savoy Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. More than a dozen residents and staff tested positive.

The other outbreak was at a church on Acushnet Avenue. More than 40 positive coronavirus cases were tied to a worship service held at the end of August.

“We’re more concerned about the other cluster,” Mayor Mitchell said in a Facebook video to residents on Thursday. “That one came from a storefront church in the North End on Acushnet Avenue, and as we’ve found it came from a person who returned from out of state, who didn’t quarantine, didn’t get himself tested, went to a Sunday service, and infected a whole lot of people.”

The isolated outbreaks elevated the city to high-risk status, putting New Bedford on the state’s COVID-19 map as a red area. In the last 14 days, there have been 172 positive cases, giving the city a positivity rate of 4.5%.

The health department announced Thursday that the parish, Iglesia Pentecostal Levantate y Anda, had been fined for failing to comply with workplace safety standards for places of worship, exceeding the occupancy limit, and failing to notify them of an employee that tested positive.

In a press release, it states that Pastor Jose Martinez was fined a total of $1,800. Martinez said he was fined twice that, $3,600.

“Giving the sum of $3,600 to a small church where we have, like I said, a capacity of 40 to 45 people, where people are faithful in their tithes and their offerings but… c’mon. It’s really unreasonable.”

Martinez said the worship service where the virus spread was on August 22, there was a bible study held on August 26, and they shut down on August 28 when they started hearing that people had come down with symptoms.

“That day we followed our normal protocol as we always do every day of service, they line up, they come in, on the right-hand side here we have the temperature, on the left, we have the disinfecting, we have our six feet distance. I really can’t explain how it really happened,” said Martinez.

But the city’s health department said they didn’t follow the proper protocol, and Martinez was hit with a fine.

“I don’t know why they’re saying we didn’t comply when they were in communication with everybody from the church. (It) was reported, and not only was reported but now are fully recovered.”

The nursing home wasn’t, and he said he feels like it’s a personal attack. He said he hasn’t heard from the health department on when he can reopen, and his parishioners need their place of worship back.

“We work for the community, we are the community. The church is the community. We’re here to help. Everything is just surprising us.”

© WLNE-TV 2020

Categories: Coronavirus, Massachusetts, New Bedford, News, Regional News