Wellington County’s health unit has ordered all Old Order Mennonite churches and schools to close immediately amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.
The directive was issued on Thursday evening by Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health’s medical officer of health, Dr. Nicola Mercer.
The order also requires members of this particular Mennonite community in the county to follow specific public health instructions, such as wearing a mask and physical distancing, along with restrictions on gatherings.
“I am saddened by the need for this extraordinary step,” Mercer said.
“COVID-19 poses a serious health risk to the Old Order Mennonite community and to all of us in the region. Sometimes we need to make difficult decisions to prevent the unchecked spread of this virus.”
Mercer said there are two main concerns in the community — large weddings happening inside homes and barns, and students going to school without wearing a mask.
“We have two outbreaks that are currently ongoing — one in a school and one that was associated with a large wedding,” Mercer said.
Wellington County continues to see an unusually high number of cases after reporting nine new positive tests on Thursday. Among the 161 confirmed cases, 27 are considered active, 131 are resolved, and three have been fatal.
In one week, Wellington County has added 32 cases and 11 people have recovered.
Mercer said a fair number of recent cases in the county are connected to the Old Order Mennonite community, but the bigger issue is the cases that they don’t know about.
Public health had attempted to set up a COVID-19 testing clinic in the community on a day earlier this month, but Mercer said no one showed up.
“It was rather disappointing,” she said.
But Mercer added that there was a meeting with some of the community leaders on Friday, which she described as productive, and the hope is to have more meetings. There is also a possibility to try another testing clinic for the community.
Public health said that along with the increase in cases and two known outbreaks of COVID-19, the “uptake of public health measures has been low.”
It added that cases have been confirmed in the Old Order Mennonite community but health-care workers cannot conduct contact tracing because this information is not being provided.
“They are a very private community and I am certain there is some fear or concern that giving the government names of people is something they don’t want to do,” Mercer said.
“But we do need names or we can’t follow up with anybody if we don’t know where you’ve been or been in contact with.”