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14 COVID-19 cases tied to Prineville church; pastor says some don’t wear masks

Crook County official says it's largest church-connected outbreak to date

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Crook County Health Department confirmed Monday it's currently investigating 14 cases of COVID-19 associated with the New Life Bible Chapel in Prineville.

And while the county has dealt with other church outbreaks since December, Health Department Public Information Officer Vicky Ryan said this is the largest to date.

Ryan told NewsChannel 21, "Our communicable disease team is addressing concerns about the environment and practices. They are also doing their case investigation and working with everyone affected."

"We will continue to remind everyone that COVID is still here and that it will continue to spread if we are not diligent in our precautions to protect ourselves and others," she said. "It is vital that community-based organizations take these steps to protect the public of all ages."

"What's been difficult for Crook County is that we spent so many months not having cases, we were way behind where everybody else in the state was," Ryan said. "And once we caught up, we caught up with a vengeance, and our cases pretty much exploded."

Ryan said the sustained low case count had more residents overlooking safety measures.

"We had a lot of people who were relaxing with the guidance, and a lot of businesses relaxing," she said.

And Ryan says the small, rural community has some residents who still don't know anyone affected by the virus.

"With this community, it's been difficult, because we do have a lot of skepticism around the pandemic, " she said. "And unless you know somebody who knows somebody who has come down with the virus and has been sick with it, it's hard to kind of wrap your head around the fact that it's real."

Pastor Ron Hemphill spoke with NewsChannel 21 by phone, and denied that any COVID-19 cases were tied directly to the church.

"There are a lot of COVID cases inside Prineville, some of those people do go to church here. As far as an outbreak in the church, that's incorrect," Hemphill said.

The pastor also said that his church has scaled back their activities.

"Our services are really scaled back, for the most part," Hemphill said. "We are doing the streaming, streaming services. We have a limited number of people because of that."

"Pastor Ron" said he doesn't wear a mask, because people can't hear him well when he does.

When asked whether his parishioners wearing masks, Hemphill said,
"Some do, some do not. If they are, you know, on oxygen or something like that, what are you going to do?"

But he said as of now, the church isn't engaging in handshakes or elbow bumps.

Coronavirus / Crook County / Prineville / Top Stories
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Blake Allen

Blake Allen is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Blake here.



    1. OK Hostile Hill Girl- if wearing a mask is NOT a big deal- then why won’t Biden-Pelosi-or Gavin Newsome wear theirs out in public ? What’s wrong with these high profile Demokrat hypocrites that snub their noses at your insistence ?

  1. “But he said as of now, the church isn’t engaging in handshakes or elbow bumps.”

    This is why we can’t have nice things. Organized religion doing what it does best…..

        1. So many hateful comments here- all generated because the regional leader in news felt the need to hate on one of CO’s smaller communities that had the nerve to stand up to Kalamity Kate Brown. QUESTION !!! If KTVZ knew that Crook County and Prineville would have their risk level lowered just a day after this story- would they have still printed this garbage ? I dare say no ! Which explains why this article was yanked off the front page within an hour of Brown’s announcement ! Such petty hate- I’d think that the Z would somehow learn to rise above their humiliation of 2016 and finally get back to reporting news- but I guess not !

          1. Hahahahah.
            FACTS: The church story was in top stories for 8-10 hours, about average. NEW news replaces OLD news atop the page, or folks have no reason to return. Every news website on the globe operates that way. Anyone who knows how to type in a search box can easily find any local story we’ve run (the national stuff, by contract, cycles out in about 2 weeks). Some trolls continue to prove they can never be trusted or believed. So keep it up, you are your own worst enemy, as usual.

  2. Sooooo he and his church are doing what most churches in Bend are doing, BUT it’s Prineville! Let’s slap on the scarlett letter. For the record most churches in Bend are having services, with reserved or extremely limited parishioners and the Preachers are not wearing mask.

      1. But why didn’t you cover the Safeway in Redmond outbreak on January 23rd ? And then there was the Bend Transitional Care facility with a large outbreak including 2 deaths (January 6th)- their “second” outbreak ! There was also a second outbreak at Mt Bachelor Memory Care in January- 24 cases- 55 deaths- certainly worthy of a headline or two ! But then again- with all the heat on Andrew Cuomo in NY- and your commitment here to protect Guv Kovid Kate- I guess we should be more understanding about your selective reporting ! As Shameful As It Is.

          1. Check the dates I posted again Snorze… we’re not talkin’ 6 months back- we’re talkin’ a few weeks and we’re questioning the apparent “black-out” on China V super spreaders that involve large scale Oregon grocery stores- that have gone un-threatened by Kovid Kata and her Brownshirt thugs at OSHA- even though they have been a contact traced source for numerous outbreaks. “Right” ?

      1. Fear mongering your butt ??? So here we are less than 24 hours after this hit piece unnecessarily attacked Prineville- and we now now that Prineville has moved down out of the “Extreme Risk” category to the next lowest level and will be opening their shop doors on Friday… So yes indeed- it does appear that this hateful story was based more on a angry agenda and less on real facts. Blake Allen owes the citizens of Prineville an apology- his story is not backed by any real contact tracing evidence- just a single Pastor talking about the virus within his members. Seems to me that many of you out there have once again jumped to the wrong conclusion after just getting bits and pieces of a poorly investigated story. Lets hope Blake can recover from this embarrassment- but it starts with an apology !

          1. GREAT ! And Doosh County Health Department had no comment on Safeway- Mt Bachelor Memory Care (where 5 people died)- or Bend Transitional Care- with two deaths ? No Comment ??? If you ask me- and I’m no expert in the field- but actual “deaths” seem to over-ride “cases” in terms of severity ! But then again- it’s your news station- report what you want- but don’t think for a minute that you got the locals buffaloed !

    1. Church is basically the local Republican Senior Center, so I wouldn’t be so caviler about it in this case. Not surprised to learn this happened. In Prineville. And the Pastor shirks all blame. Then preaches personal responsibility. As his flock spreads it to neighbors and coworkers. And closes down local restaurants. Because Kate.

      1. One man’s spread is another man’s “herd immunity”. Outbreaks in Prineville have been more of an annoyance than a safety concern- let’s try to learn the diff.

        1. No. YOU’RE questioning it. If you hate this news source so much, why do you keep coming back? Because it’s the only one that allows you to post on their forums still? There have been at least 23 deaths in crook county, but since that number is so low, you dont care about them? This is why you dont get a real voice. Because you think those deaths meant nothing and you don’t realize how much worse it could have been if no one wore mask. Nothing you say or do will amount to anything when everything you say or do is hate filled mongering complete with skewed facts. Again, why are you even here if you hate it so much? Surely, house values have gone up enough to give you the monetary needs to move to a place more suited to your outlook.

    2. Because a 1 in 100 death rate for a very contagious respiratory disease translates into a lot of dead people. It’s not like, say, snake bites, which few people experience. 1% death rate translates to over 3 million dead once it spreads to everyone. We’re already at a half million corpses. Nobody talks about the flu like this because it’s not anywhere near as deadly. U.S. life expectancy took a measurable hit last year. Objective facts, not fear mongering.

  3. There are other churches holding services just like this church has.
    There are numerous places where there has been an “outbreak”. There was an in home care place for the elderly that had a major outbreak here in town but no one broke the news on it. Just because there has been multiple people at this church that have been diagnosed with covid doesn’t mean the church is where they got it. Some of the “diagnoses” of covid may not be. If the government or whomever is changing people’s death certificates to state they died of covid when in fact they didn’t die of covid but of something else then the government can say anything and people will believe it

  4. Agreed dolphin we are in an age and powers that be right now that wants to have control over what we hear. Some will bury their head in the sand and some will do something stupid like go to australia and look for the kangaroo that sucker punched them years early and try to get an apology from it. Like cb said lets be thankful brown hasnt done that here and put limits on what the media says about her and her handling of this pandemic. We’ll see in a few hours if that outbreak keeps crook county from dropping to high risk and we go down to moderate and places can stay open till midnight

  5. There is picture proof on the New Life Bible Chapel Prineville Facebook page that both staff, and members of the church gather in groups of 10+ without masks. Also they have only started live streaming February 14th 2021. According to the comments posted on the live streams they only did this after several people had fell ill and were asked to quarantine. I wish this church and others would just do the right thing. According to Crook County Health Department vaccinations for critical and general population won’t be available until May 2021.

      1. If this is such “big and concerning” news- why Did Brown and the OHA move Crook County (aka Prineville) down a risk level today ? The year long hoax continues to expose itself with every move you guys try to make.

          1. The first component of OHA/Brown’s three assessments contains the words- “Presumptive Cases” ! So how do we define the root of the verb “Presumptive”- According to Merriam Webster- “1: based on probability or presumption- 2: giving grounds for reasonable opinion or belief. Gee Barney- where’s the “data driven facts” in that definition ??? One of these days you all down at the station are going to have to come to terms with your level of participation in the grand hoax of 2020. Until then- my opinion goes unchanged- your timing couldn’t be worse ! You should spend more time reporting the good instead of promoting the fear… Shameful !

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