Bible group put faith in God, not masks 

Study group linked to Island’s latest cluster; leader calls science on masks ‘inexact.’

Jim Osborn, left, waving flag, at a freedom and liberty to work rally in April. Osborn, a Times part-time employee, tested positive for COVID-19 as part of Bible study group cluster. — Lexi Pline

Mask wearing and social distancing were “welcomed” but not required at a Bible study group linked to a COVID-19 cluster, according to the pastor who led the study group.

The Martha’s Vineyard boards of health first reported a cluster of cases linked to the Bible study group in their expanded weekly report on Dec. 11. Since then, the cluster has grown to 11 cases — five of whom were study group participants, and six of whom are family and in the household of the participants. The cluster was not linked to any one particular church, but rather is a private, in-person group.

Jim Osborn, a part-time independent contractor for The Times who attended several of the weekly study groups at homes in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, and tested positive for COVID-19, said that mask wearing was not required by study group leader the Rev. Dan Davey, an assistant pastor at the New Testament Church of Cedarville in Plymouth.

Davey “never wore a mask,” Osborn said. “He sort of gave us the impression that because it was a Bible study, we were under God’s protection during the Bible study, and I guess we all made that same false assumption.”

The study group consisted of 12 members, according to Osborn, and would meet on Friday evenings for dinner and then have Bible study.

The Bible study cluster is the third cluster of COVID-19 cases reported on Martha’s Vineyard. The first was linked to an October wedding, resulting in eight cases (and another two off-Island), and the second was at Cronig’s Market, resulting in 19 cases.
Speaking to The Times by phone, Davey said the group met “regularly,” beginning in the summer, and would meet outside, but moved inside when the weather got colder. He said the last Bible study group he led on the Island was in early December, and the group won’t be meeting in the future.

Davey confirmed that mask wearing and social distancing were not required at the study groups, but he said he gave people the freedom to decide what they wanted to do.

“I said, Yeah, you’re welcome to wear masks, but that’s a choice each person makes,” Davey said. “We were sitting out on a deck, so everyone was sitting where they chose to sit.”

He denied telling study group attendees that God would protect them.

“I don’t recall ever saying, ‘God’s going to protect you, don’t worry about it,’” Davey said. “But I live my life, frankly, that God’s going to take care of me regardless. There were a lot of other viruses before COVID-19 came along, and I’m sure there’s more to come.”

Osborn said he and his wife, Carol, were two of the first people to test positive for the virus. The only symptoms Osborn had were a minor loss of smell and a major loss of appetite. His wife had more persistent symptoms, such as a fever, cough, and sore throat.

“One thing that’s been good about being on the Island is that there’s been a [contact tracer] that kept calling to make sure everything was OK,” Osborn said. “She wanted to make sure that nobody was falling through the cracks.”

Davey took issue with contact tracing in general. “I think contact tracing is a very inexact science,” Davey said. “To trace it to any particular gathering of any kind, when you have people who are living their lives out there in public doing a lot of other things as well, I think that’s pretty inexact to nail that down to any one particular place.”

Davey reiterated that mask wearing was optional at the study groups. “They could wear masks if they chose, but they have the option, and I still feel like that is kind of the case across the country, that people still have a choice to make of what they’re going to do with their own personal lives, how they’re going to handle things.”

He was also skeptical of the legitimacy of mask wearing. “The science on mask wearing is very inexact. There’s a lot of discussion and debate back and forth whether that even makes a difference,” Davey said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, COVID-19 is transmitted predominantly by respiratory droplets when people cough, sneeze, sing, talk, or breathe, and cloth face masks reduce the chance of transmission. 

On Nov. 6, Gov. Charlie Baker issued an order requiring masks be worn indoors and outdoors in all public places, regardless of social distancing.

Davey, who said he has not tested positive for COVID-19, stressed that while the more than 300,000 deaths from COVID-19 should not be discounted, the number should be put in perspective with those who have died from the flu. 

According to the CDC, COVID-19 and the flu cause several of the same symptoms, such as fever, cough, sore throat, and fatigue. One of the key differences is that the flu can cause mild to severe symptoms, while COVID-19 “seems to cause more serious illnesses in some people.”

The CDC estimates there were 24,000 to 62,000 flu deaths between Oct 1, 2019, and April 4, 2020.

Davey said the group is not meeting anymore due to the holidays and group members traveling, not because of the cluster of cases.

Osborn is now attending a Bible study group via Zoom, and has been cleared by his doctor to return to work after following hospital guidelines of quarantine, which are in line with the CDC.

“It had been going on for so many weeks,” Osborn said. “It sort of reinforced the idea that God’s protection must be over this Bible study, because week after week after week, no masks, nobody was getting sick, until this one day.”


  1. Why have we lost our sense of community and communal responsibility in the U.S.? We wear masks not just for ourselves but for all of those we interact with. In relation to covid19 we are indeed our brothers’ keepers. What prevents so many of us from realizing and accepting this?

    • Explain to me….you have a mask to protect yourself…..I choose not to. Are you not protected by your mask and I can just live my life without harming you??

      • I wear my mask; you choose not to. I sneeze into my mask; you sneeze into your hand. You put your hand on the door; I follow, seconds later. I get into my car, take my mask off and absently rub my nose/eyes before I use the hand sanitizer. I have no religious tendencies but I do believe, and strongly, that I am my brothers/sisters keeper. And I’m willing to deal with minor discomfort and inconvenience toward that end. It ain’t all about me.

        • Sorry, I feel no obligation to protect your health. That’s on you. Stay locked up in your house and allow me my freedom to live.

          • How about when you go in for surgery? Do you feel it’s the surgeon’s responsibility and obligation to wear a mask while operating on you? Exactly why would a surgeon wear a mask? What’s the risk to the patient?

          • If I followed you through that door then I’m obviously not “locked up” in my house. I’ve lived and enjoyed my life thoroughly for the past nine months. Met with friends and made new ones. Always with a mask, because we are a community, and yes, the unselfish among us know that we have an obligation to each other. Just as if I came upon a car accident, I would do what was necessary to assist the injured. If I saw someone struggling in the ocean, I would risk my safety and comfort to help. Those of us who live as fully engaged members of the human race know where our duty lies: in our unhesitating willingness to care for and about each other.

            So, although you “feel no obligation” towards those of us who’ve practiced careful protocols, please know that we do this to keep not just ourselves and our loved ones safe, but you, as well.

          • john. Why do you think I should have to lock myself in my house to be protected from a deadly virus? Does the constitution not guarantee freedom of movement for ALL? With great freedom comes great responsibility. Why should my life be restricted by the willfully ignorant who wave their flags and crucifixes and deny reality.
            Please be responsible and allow me the freedom to live without fear of someone inadvertently infecting me.
            Dana said it very well.

          • Mr. Axel,
            Do you drive on the right side of the road?

            Do you stop at stop signs?

            If so, you’re protecting other people’s health, which is considered civilized behavior in this society.

          • well.
            Lucky for you, that those of us in healthcare have taken oaths to care for all people at all times irrespective of whether they give a damn about other humans or only care about themselves…

        • Thank you Dana…. I’ve been writing and say this almost weekly. To those out there .. Read or watch real international news and see that this virus has now mutated 3 – 4 times not just the one splashed on the local news of talking heads.
          A good not is to see the lowest spread countries are those wearing masks, washing hands and following protocol. Can those countries all be wrong?

          • John– If I am in a public place, and I have to sneeze, you can bet your gluteus maximus that I will sneeze in my mask. Any responsible citizen will.

          • Yes, John, everyone I’ve seen in a mask, sneezes into the mask. Otherwise, there’s not much point in wearing one. Again, the willingness to endure a few moments of “yuck” for the common good.
            On the other hand, I spend three seasons dealing with slugs and earwigs in my gardens, I delivered my babies at home, clean the gunk out of our ponds in the spring-I have to go a long, long way before I reach anything I consider “yuck.” No delicate flower here, swooning over a sneezed-into mask. You have some tender sensibilities, especially considering the world we’re living in.

      • Wearing a mask protects those around you in the event you have COVID. You have it backwards, my mask protects you and your mask protects me. Your refusal to wear a mask endangers anyone you come close to.

  2. So does Davey believe that those who died from COVID were not “protected” by God? Asking for all the sane people in America. The selfish and ignorance is just jaw dropping.

  3. So…I guess when I worked in an operating room my mask was optional? Having been scientifically trained I have to let Mr. Osborn and Mr. Davey know that the science of wearing masks is VERY exact.

  4. Good for them , meeting and not drinking the cool aid of the failed Baker administration. If you can breathe through a mask you can receive the virus through the mask. History will not treat this liberal leaders well.

    • It is this kind of thinking that prevents us from lowering the infection rate nationwide. The mask is intended to keep you from infecting others. It is not intended to block inhalation of the disease from the air. Asymptomatic people can spread the disease without even knowing it.
      Last time I checked, Baker was a Republican. He’s apparently a whole lot smarter than many of his party members and does not exhibit the lack of common sense so prevalent among the right.

  5. CDC estimated 24,000 to 62,000 deaths from flu from 10/2019 to 4/2020.

    The US Covid death toll is 334,029 from January to December 2020 !!

    Wear your masks please. And follow all protocols.

    You may not care that you get Covid, but I hope you care to NOT transmit it to others. Covid can be transmitted whether or not you have symptoms.

    • Well said Ginny, just consider others please, that is all we could ask for! People don’t be so selfish!

  6. Perhaps the next time this bible study group gets together they should take a look at the meaning of
    Philippians 2:4
    “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
    Wearing a mask protects the interest of others.
    Unless one chooses to be willfully ignorant, it is pretty clear that a mask reduces the particles coming out of one’s body which may contain this virus. it’s not too complicated. It seems pretty obvious that god herself is commanding us to wear a mask in this situation.

    And to address My Osborn’s comment :
    “It had been going on for so many weeks,” Osborn said. “It sort of reinforced the idea that God’s protection must be over this Bible study, because week after week after week, no masks, nobody was getting sick, until this one day.”

    May I suggest studying Matthew 24:43
    ” But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.”

    Please, study responsibly.

    • Mr Keller I am so glad you are reading the Bible. You will agree that context is important and how one exegetes the scripture is important also. However for one who often pokes fun of Christian believers and is a member in good standing of the Pastafarians group who wear collanders on their heads, isnt it a bit ironic that you are quoting scripture? Just sayin.

      • Andrew– I was raised in a catholic family, went to church every Sunday, until I became old enough to say “NO” , went to catholic school for my first 8 years of formal education, went through a “Jesus freak” stage in my early 20’s and was married to a born again Evangelical Christian for 4 years while in my 40’s. I know the teachings of Jesus better than most “christians”.
        I see no irony If I am conversing with christians about christianity, and I quote their scripture.
        To be clear, I do not poke fun at christians for the sake of poking fun at them. I mock them when their hypocrisy rises to a level that even I am offended by. I respect the religious beliefs of others, but I have utter disdain for those that profess to be disciples of a higher power, and then commit atrocities in the name of their god.
        I can assure you that Jesus would not condone unprotected bible study, nor would he support a president with the low moral standards of someone like trump.
        As for my Pastafarianism, I at least adhere to the teachings.
        You can purchase a used copy of “The Gospel Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster ” for about $5. Then if you find me defiling my own religion, you can quote my scripture and poke fun at me.
        Peace, love and Pasta.
        And my best wishes for a happy and healthy new year to all of us.

    • Will try this again!

      Wonderful sentiments, Don, just important for everyone to remember that the science does not *fully* support the *mandated* approach. Other factors should inform peoples’ ethics, and our criteria for not just governing people, but judging our neighbors. Christian or not.

      Importantly, what is in the interest of those who choose not to wear masks, or who are exempt, are the same interests that we aim to protect by decriminalizing the transmission of HIV, for example.

      • Jack, would you kindly provide references to studies that uphold your position that “science does not *fully* support the *mandated* approach”?

  7. People who make the decision to not comply with Covid protection, get admitted and cared for by health workers who risk their lives every day. How do they believe they are just in their decision.

    • Yes, they risk their lives to get the flu…….which they if they didn’t want to do this they should have chosen a different line of work.

      • I’ve been a healthcare provider for 30 years. Like others in the field, I signed on to a life of long hours, weekend and night responsibilities, and the near-daily stress of caring for others.
        Your response is, quite frankly, selfish and cavalier. In addition to putting our own health on the line, we too, have families that may be at extra risk, should we become infected.The death rate from Covid-19 is 50x that of the typical flu, and thousands have died thus far. Wearing a mask is a pretty small ask…you’re not being asked to donate a kidney. Why not err on the side of caution, even if the science is “inexact”. In addition, consider recognizing that this pandemic has affected the delivery of healthcare for all non-covid related conditions as well. I’m betting you’d like a seasoned Cardiologist and staff of nurses rested and ready when you or your loved one develops chest pain…show some heart here, huh ?

  8. Not that is will do a dam bit of good but am wondering if they will now see the importance of ” Proper Masking Up and Social Distancing”!
    Hopefully no one will die or become permanent disabled due to him and his flocks total ignorance and anti-whatever.
    Hopefully he didn`t pass it around the Times but how many others have they infected other than their family members?

    I have been know to get carried away at times so I will stop here but you can I imaging how I feel about Jim Osborn and his flocks inexcusable actions!

  9. My Mom was very religious and had a saying “God helps those who help themselves”. In other words, if you don’t help yourself don’t expect God to. Wear a mask. It helps you help others.

    • This is precisely the religious right’s argument for carrying a gun. You walked right into that one…!

      It’s unfortunate that the Times went with this sensational title and angle…seems disingenuous toward people of faith in general, projecting “God vs. masks” onto them as some kind of zero-sum doctrine of faith.

      How revealing, since clearly many people of faith are willing to be mask-compliant with no sense of conflict with their God, while it seems the Times and many commenters think that believing in God is equally a product of the stupidity and ignorance they think it takes to not wear a mask. Their sentiment seems to reflect who truly holds the presumptuous zero-sum position.

      It might behoove the Times to make a clarifying statement about this, since it does seem rather defamatory and incitive, especially when taken together with the responses (someone wants to vote the Christians in this Bible Study off the Island!) that have been approved by moderators.

      • I second that. I tried to point out the bias of the commenters, and share Bible verse in favor of visiting the sick, but the moderator wouldn’t let my post through – I tried 5 times or so. Compare that to the insults the Times is happy to approve — perhaps this response is exactly what the Times wanted with this article. Yes I agree, there is indication that the Times is biased, and is more interested in defamation and incitation against Christians. The Times should answer for this.

  10. What is the purpose of this news article? Is it Osborn who works for the MVTimes trying to ”out” Davey? Is it an attempt to shame Christians who gather? We have a man who willingly went to a study and observed its practices, contracted Covid and now seems to suggest that he was duped into believing God would protect him. Osborn and his wife had minor issues but tells the Times about the Bible study so that they can publish a story implicating Davey. Some ulterior motives behind this.

    • Andrew– the purpose of this article is to inform the public about a public health crisis and how a virus gets spread around the community. The times does not have a case of “Davey derangement syndrome” or any other tin foil conspiracy that someone may dream up for their own ulterior motive. The fact is that this bible study group is directly responsible for 10 cases of a virus that is wreaking havoc on our community and our economy. It is quite possible it will spread to more people.

  11. I used to get angry when I heard about people choosing not to wear masks, for whatever reason. Now, I’m just sad and fearful as I read this. Ignorance may be bliss for the ignorant but it’s terrifying for the rest of us.

    • Shawn, if you are terrified please stay home and lock the doors. There are people out in the world speeding in their cars, there is lightning in the sky, snow sometimes falls……it’s a dangerous world…..just…..stay ……..locked up!

  12. Why has the case count on MV more than quadrupled since late August? Did people become complacent? We has fewer weekly new cases when there were a far greater number of people on island.

    • Wish we could edit comments. I’m a bit embarrassed by my typo where I used “has” when it should be “had’.

      • Jim– don’t worry about the typos.. We all do that occasionally. The only people who would think poorly of you are those who are not concerned with the community and the concept that we are all together here. Their opinions will be even less relevant than they already are after Jan 20.

  13. Some of you have had comments deleted. Just to refresh, you are required to use your first and last name to comment. No made up names or anonymous comments are allowed. And, please, keep it civil. You can disagree without being disagreeable.

  14. So many Christians have no trouble believing in God and trusting science at the same time. I wonder about those who reject science (and, along with it, concern for others in their community) and mistake the word of a preacher for the word of God. I also can’t help noticing that this preacher’s words, as quoted, seem to owe more to the word of the current U.S. president than to the Bible.

  15. The bottom line is that this is a small island with a small hospital, and that was absolutely un-Christian to not take EVERY precaution possible to protect this community where they wanted to spend time. No excuses.

  16. This story shows just how dangerous blind religious “faith” is to both sect members and the general public. The denialism among too many lso-called “leaders” in conservative religious denominations is literally ANTI-life while we are all living life under the pandemic, and thus the stubborn pattern of willful ignorance of reality demonstrated by these groups is, and should be deemed, criminally negligent. The religious Right in particular has been abusing the First Amendment’s deference to religious practice. There a reckoning for the mass delusion among this part of our society that has shown such blatant disregard for its fellow citizens. Religious “liberty” cannot be allowed to trump (pun unintended) the right of secular society and public policymakers to PROTECT and DEFEND public health and welfare. The beliefs and behaviors exhibited by the anti-science crowd in America’s religious sects are radical in their selfishness and stupidity, and represent un-American, unpatriotic, and technically genocidal attitudes that have no place in civil society in the 21st century. The people leading their flocks over that cliff of self-deception must be held legally accountable for the threat they represent to ALL Americans.

    • Hi Patience — you might be relieved to know that churches and religious folk are not a major source of spread in the USA. What happened on our Island at the Bible Study was quite rare and obviously the cases were few, and mild at that, luckily!

      From Holly Scheer: “…0.0216 percent of [COVID cases] trace back to churches. Less than one-tenth of 1 percent should not — and cannot — be called a major source of this infection.”

      The spread in this Bible Study “spreader event” is actually consistent with the biggest cause of spread, which is home gatherings. But don’t you think it’s fair to question whether limiting people’s right to gather, or make decisions about mask use, in private dwellings is conscionable, especially in the way that you’re advocating for — namely discriminating on the basis of religion and ideology even to the point of holding them “legally accountable for the threat they represent to ALL Americans” because of their faith and opinions?

      I’m not sure that you meant to come onto this public forum and advocate for the prosecution of thought-crimes, which is something the villains in not just Orwell books, but totalitarian regimes in real life, do — especially because I gather from your statements that your charge against President Donald J. Trump is that he is a totalitarian, and you seem quite passionate about raising your banner against totalitarianism, at least the types that you choose to recognize and find repugnant.

      Surely many of our ancestors, and far too many of our immigrant friends, know all too well the terror of getting a knock on their door because their beliefs made them liable to being held “legally accountable for the threat they represent”.

      Let’s keep our community safe and free together — there is no need to pit liberty and safety against one another. They are very compatible. From the looks of all of the comments here, everyone knows very well how to take care of themselves, so a heavy hand is certainly not necessary.

      Have a nice day!

      • Jack. Of the 533 confirmed cases on the Vineyard 11 have been traced to this one study group. That’s just over 2 % .
        While that is still a small number, it is 100 times that of your source.
        Holly Scheer may or may not be correct with her national number, but they do not seem to apply here.
        Also keep in mind that she writes for a far right publication (The guardian) that has consistently downplayed the severity of the virus. We all know how statistics can be manipulated to fit a certain bias. For instance, if you factor in that only 20% of Americans actually attend services on a regular basis, church going seems a bit more dangerous. Thanks for posting your source.
        I read the July 13 article you quoted. I wonder what the numbers are like now.

  17. jesus and his disciples were hanging around with lepers, who were treated by everyone else pretty much the way everyone is talking here about christians who get covid: as if they’re icky people who deserved it.

    “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” James 5

    “Then he will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…because I was sick, and you visited me.’…
    Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed he eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…because you did not visit me when I was sick…’” Matthew 25

    you would think that the commenters here actually like seeing covid spread around since they’re so gleeful about pointing out who deserves it as a reward for being “stupid” — even as they presume to be the best judge of good christian character.

    • Bernadette– The bible offers some very good advice about how to live a good life. It is not a medical textbook.
      Until science discovered that microscopic organisms can cause diseases, it was thought that all disease was the result of the will of god. If one believes that, and there are no other options available ,then praying is a rational idea. Anointing the sick with oil allows one to feel that they are doing something.
      You say that commenters are saying they “deserved” it.
      I just looked at all 56 comments here. Not a single person has implied that. Some have expressed that they are not surprised, and one said
      “Irresponsible. Egotistical. Dangerous.I vote them off the island.” But “deserved it”? No.
      And if I may point it out, religious leaders like to place blame for things;
      “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals; it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”– Jerry Falwell–
      Falwell also blamed the 9/11 attacks on pagans, abortionists, feminists, “the gays and the lesbians” and the ACLU.
      And forget Pat Robertson– He blames nearly everything Including covid 19, Katrina and 9/11 on some sort of unchristian behavior.
      It is the christian leaders who say “they deserve it”.
      Your comment that “…the commenters here actually like seeing covid spread around …” is the most offensive comment in this thread.

  18. Covid must be having a good laugh at these comments. The disease doesn’t care about anyone’s beliefs. Enough with the ridiculous Christian paraoia and infighting. Covid is 100% non-discriminatory. It likes everybody equally– Christian, Jew, Muslim, non-believer. What you believe or how you feel about your religion, or about anything, is entirely irrelevent. It’s what you DO, what precautions you take that matter when it comes to spread. If you behave irresponsibly, you have more outbreaks. This bible group did not follow the science, ergo Covid had its way here, as it always will when guidelines are ignored or dismissed. Tell yourself whatever you like– quote Shakepeare, the Bible, or Alfred E Neuman, but Covid thus far has killed nearly 350,000 Americans of all stripes.Where’s all the Christian concern for bereaved families? You either care about others– and behave according to recommended guidelines– or you’re like a Donald Trump and don’t. Pretty simple to wear a mask and social distance and not gather, hardly a sacrifice at all, and yet, by the stupidity, laziness, arrogance, anger and outrage of some, you’d think we were being asked to live in a concentration camp and wear a yellow Mogen David. Mask-wearing is not a sacrifice. It is an act of respect for others. When you choose to pretend that your religious rights are somehow being infringed upon when asked to cover your mouth and nose to protect others, or get mad when people notice the selfishness of others, you expose yourself as empathy-challenged. Following the scientific guidelines, as the experts learn more and more about this novel virus, is not a choice decent, caring people, religious or not, have trouble with. Wear your masks, social distance, don’t gather, and get your vaccine when it’s your turn.

  19. JA. Ewww. Just yuck and ew. Yes. Freedom is lovely. But we aren’t free to build a house without a septic system. If someone kept defecating on your law you could probably legally do something about it. If you walked into Linda jeans and put a dirty pair of boots on the counter everyone would give you the stink eye. And if you have the waitress a hard time about it you’d get booed out. That’s why people are booing you here, JA. Every day the equivalent of something like many jumbo jets are augering into the ground with people dying of covid. So what do the vast majority of people say when we see someone without a mask now?

    Ew! Yuck! Gross. Boo!!!!!

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