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Church elder ‘shocked’ by COVID-19 outbreak at his Kelowna church

Click to play video 'Kelowna church attendees told to self-isolate' Kelowna church attendees told to self-isolate
WATCH: Some members of a Kelowna religious congregation are in self-isolation after five COVID-19 cases were identified connected to the church. The outbreak is shining a spotlight on the challenges faced by faith groups wanting to hold worship services during the pandemic. – Sep 28, 2020

A church elder at Calvary Chapel Kelowna said he was shocked that a COVID-19 outbreak happened at his church because the faith group had a host of coronavirus precautions in place for their in-person services.

Over the weekend,  Interior Health announced it was declaring an outbreak at the church and that five COVID-19 cases had been linked to the church cluster.

“We really didn’t anticipate that it would happen, given everything we put in place,” said church elder Brad MacBeth.

Read more: Fifth COVID-19 case linked to Kelowna, B.C. church outbreak

MacBeth said the church has been in contact with those who’ve contracted COVID-19.

“Some are doing fine, it was relatively mild. One or two, they’ve been pretty sick. They are recovering, they are doing OK,” MacBeth said.

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“Of course, we’ve had a lot of concern for those folks, for their families. It is very, very difficult for them just to manage their household when somebody has tested positive.”

In the wake of the outbreak, the church has suspended its public gatherings and is going back to holding its Sunday services online, as it did at the beginning of the pandemic.

Read more: Concerns grow over Okanagan students gathering in large numbers on school breaks

When Calvary Chapel Kelowna members were meeting in-person, MacBeth said precautions included having congregants preregister to attend services to ensure groups were less than 50, reviewing screening questions with those attending in-person and arranging seating so it was socially distanced.

“We are hopeful that this is perhaps subsiding now. We don’t know for sure. We won’t know for a while yet,” MacBeth said on Monday.

MacBeth said a public health officer will be looking at the church’s space and protocols to give feedback on possible enhancements to their COVID-19 precautions.

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Commandment rewritten on B.C. church sign for pandemic times – Sep 7, 2020

Some parishioners asked to self-isolate

When it announced the outbreak at Calvary Chapel Kelowna on Saturday, Interior Health said some parishioners who had attended a service on Sunday, Sept. 13, should self-isolate for two weeks after the date of possible exposure.

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However, the public notification came just one day before the two-week, self-isolation period was set to end.

Watch: Quebec churches cry foul over COVID-19 restrictions

The health authority explained the delay in public notification saying it notified close contacts after the first case was identified, and it wasn’t until transmission was discovered later that the health authority declared an outbreak and put out a public notice.

Read more: B.C. reports 267 new COVID-19 cases over three days, as active cases continue to drop

On Sunday, after the fifth case was identified, the health authority put out another public notification, saying that anyone who attended the church services at Calvary Chapel Kelowna on Sunday, Sept. 20, should also self-isolate for 14 days.

The church uses space at the Kelowna Christian School for its services. However, the health authority said “there are no exposures of concern related to the school.”

MacBeth said the church only uses the school space for Sunday morning services (the church office is at a separate site) and the church does extensive sanitizing following its worship services.

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Multiple faiths change worship practices during COVID-19 pandemic – Apr 5, 2020

Timeline of Calvary Chapel outbreak

Sunday, Sept. 13: Possible exposure at Calvary Chapel Kelowna service

Saturday, Sept. 19: Interior Health says it became aware of a single case who was infectious at the Sept. 13 church service. The health authority says close contacts of the case were directly notified.

Sunday, Sept. 20: Church holds Sunday service. The church said someone who attended service that day was later diagnosed with COVID-19.

Tuesday, Sept. 22: Church elder Brad MacBeth said the church received an email on Tuesday from Interior Health letting the church know “somebody had been in attendance at our service on Sept. 13 and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.” MacBeth said the church alerted congregants about the case and continued to update them as the situation developed. Interior Health said it was a “courtesy notification as we do with any single exposure considered to be contained.”

Friday, Sept. 25: Cases two and three tested positive, according to Interior Health. The health authority said this “demonstrates how long COVID-19 can incubate before symptoms arise.” The church cancels its in-person service scheduled for Sunday.

Saturday, Sept. 26: An outbreak is declared and Interior Health issues a press release telling some parishioners who had been at the Sept. 13 service to self-isolate. Four cases had been identified connected to the church and the health authority said “the presence of transmission is what triggered Interior Health declaring an outbreak … even though isolation periods of the initial patients were nearly complete.”

Sunday, Sept. 27: Five cases have now been confirmed. The health authority issues a second press release saying anyone who attended services at the church on Sept. 20 should also self-isolate. The church holds an online meeting with congregants.