The head of Fraser Health is asking for faith leaders to play it safe and keep places of worship closed during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The best way for religious organizations to protect their members right now is to gather virtually,” Fraser Health President and CEO Dr. Victoria Lee said Tuesday.
Lee’s comments came after Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church was fined $2,300 for defying COVID-19 orders and holding Sunday morning service.
“We feel like if we have grounds to stand on then we don’t feel like we should close,” Cole Smith, a youth pastor at Riverside Calvary Church, told Global News Monday, reading a statement from the church’s lead pastor.
“If there is data that churches relate to rising COVID cases then I’ll give it another thought,” Smith added on behalf of the lead pastor.
On Tuesday, Lee said there has been COVID-19 transmission linked to religious services.
“It is false that transmission has not occurred in places of worship,” Lee said.
“In fact, we have seen COVID-19 clusters or cases in temples, churches, and prayer gatherings. Whenever people gather in person, especially right now when we have significant community transmission of COVID-19, this introduces another platform where that transmission can occur.”
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday that she has spoken with leaders from various faiths and has been impressed by their commitment to keeping their congregations safe.
“Faith is not a building,” Henry said Monday. “It is not about Sunday mornings, but it is about every day and how we connect with each other and how we support each other.
“It’s not about rights, but it’s about community and responsibility to our fellow citizens.”
— With files from Emily Lazatin and Amy Judd