Leader of evangelical school in Redding addresses outbreak in video

The co-founder of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, Calif., shared a video on Facebook addressing the evangelical college’s COVID-19 outbreak, which has attracted national media attention.

Kris Vallotton said “there’s so much swirling news” and he created the video to clarify “what’s going on.”

“They’re quoting us pretty well but adding a bunch of their own commentary,” Vallotton said.

The school has experienced an outbreak in cases that have contributed to a spike in Shasta County in recent weeks.

Shasta County officials said Wednedsay 274 recent cases in the county were tied to the School of Supernatural Ministry. That number includes 137 cases reported last week. Overall, the county has reported more than 700 cases in the past two weeks, bringing the total since March to 1,623, officials said Wednesday.

Vallotton said the school required its 1,600 students to be tested and quarantine for 14 days before returning to class, and contact tracing revealed that the students who later became infection contracted the virus in the community in their homes.

“I wanted to kind of dispel the idea that students came from all over the world … and they brought the virus and infected our city,” he said.

The school’s outbreak gained national attention when a high-ranking official at Bethel Church, which is affiliated with the school, posted a now-deleted video on social media mocking face masks as “worthless.” In the footage, Beni Johnson said she was visiting “a cute little town over on the coast” and standing in line to buy some food without wearing a mask.

“There is way too much security in a freaking mask that doesn’t even work,” Johnson says in the video.

She said people in the line moved away from her and when she got to the counter to order, she was told she had to wear a mask, even though she had pulled her sweatshirt over her mouth.

“If you’ll do scientific research these masks are worthless,” she said, adding that she had planned to shop in the town. “But now we won’t be shopping and giving them any money because you have to wear a stupid freaking mask that doesn’t work.”

Vallotton addressed the video in his Facebook post, saying, “We instituted masks. They had to wear masks. They do have to wear masks every day. So despite what maybe some of our leaders have been putting on Facebook, Beni Johnson and some leaders, masks are the law, and also we personally believe it’s about more than the law. It’s about love.”

Vallotton emphasized that students at the school are required to wear masks and sit 6 feet apart in class.

Shasta County officials have also denounced the video. “I would really encourage people not to pay attention to that misinformation,” county health officer Karen Ramstrom said during an online briefing Wednesday. “There is only growing evidence around the benefits of face coverings and mask use to mitigate the spread of this virus.”

Bethel Church also made national news headline in December 2019 when its congregation and people around for the world prayed for the resurrection of a 2-year-old girl. The effort was unsuccessful and the parents of Olive Heiligenthal eventually held a memorial service.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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