SAN FRANCISCO — An evangelical college in Northern California said Wednesday it has asked its entire 1,600-student body to self-quarantine as the number of coronavirus cases among students and staff rose to 137 since classes started a month ago.
In a statement, the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California, said off-campus housing has been a primary source of transmission, along with "social interactions outside of school hours." The school does not have on-campus housing and encourages students on its website to "infiltrate the neighborhoods of Redding," recommending 17 "revival regions in need of transformation."
Officials in Shasta County, where the school is located, say the outbreak has driven a recent spike in COVID-19 cases that led the state on Tuesday to restore more restrictions on restaurants, bars and other businesses there.
The county recorded more than 500 new coronavirus cases in the past two weeks, pushing its total number of cases since March to 1,158. It is now in the red tier of California's color-coded framework for business and school reopenings, which indicates a substantial rate of infection and is one level away from the most restrictive purple tier.
The school's statement said 68 students currently have positive cases of coronavirus out of the 137 student and staff cases since school started in early September.
In response, school officials asked students to stay home starting last Friday and moved all classes online.
"Students have been asked to self-quarantine, regardless of whether or not they are experiencing symptoms. Students have been instructed to only leave home for essentials, not participate in any social gatherings" and not visit any non-essential businesses or public areas, the statement said. It also asked any staff members who were in contact with anyone who contracted the virus to quarantine at home.
The school said it implemented numerous safety measures before the start of the school year, including a smaller student body of 1,600 students, compared with 2,300 last year. It asked students to arrive early to quarantine for 14 days prior to classes starting and required each student to show a negative COVID-19 test result before attending school. The school required face coverings and social distancing at all times, with daily temperature checks taken at the door, the statement said.
On its website, the school describes itself as "a ministry training center" that is not an accredited university "where our students embrace their royal identity, learn the values of the kingdom, and walk in the authority and power of the King."
The school is affiliated with Bethel Church, a Redding-based megachurch known for laying on of hands. A pastor associated with Bethel Church has been criticized for holding large rallies in California and across the country in defiance of local health orders that have drawn thousands of participants, most of whom don't wear face masks or social distance. Thousands turned out for a rally he organized at the city's famed Sundial Bridge in July.
The school said it also canceled in-person church services for Oct. 4 and Oct. 11 that have been held outdoors on a sports field. The school has not said when in-person instruction will resume.
"Let's continue to pray for the city as we all navigate this challenging season together," the statement said.