Blenheim church outbreak now linked with 30 COVID cases, including blood clinic exposure

·3 min read

An outbreak at a church in Blenheim is now connected with an estimated 30 COVID-19 cases in Chatham-Kent.

In a morning briefing Thursday, Chatham-Kent medical officer of health Dr. David Colby said about 230 people associated with the church outbreak were isolating. By the end of Thursday, Colby said 450 people in total were isolating across the region, though it's not clear how many more are associated with the church.

Colby said that an infected individual who attended a Chatham blood donor clinic earlier this month was a member of the Blenheim Word of Life Church. The health unit has issued an exposure notice to 150 others who were at the clinic.

The region's three hospitalized cases are also from the church's outbreak, the health unit said.

Colby added that a congregant living outbreak in Chatham is also linked to the church outbreak. He called the church outbreak "rather large and unwieldy."

"It's a question of when you decide to stop associating cases with the original source, and rather just saying that they're due to a close contact with an active case," said Colby.

When asked where other cases in the community are coming from, he compared the church outbreak to a tree's roots.

"Ultimately, the branches of the tree lead back to the church root," said Colby.

But, he said, the further those cases get from the root, the more likely the public health unit will call them "close contacts to active cases."

"We continue to monitor and isolate with regard to that outbreak," Colby said. Blenheim is a small town in the Chatham-Kent region.

The church posted on Facebook early last week that a member of its "church families" had tested positive for COVID-19.

Katerina Georgieva/CBC
Katerina Georgieva/CBC

In a Facebook message to CBC News Thursday, pastor Tim Joyce said "We would very much appreciate that you would respect our privacy at this time."

He continued to say, "We are still in the middle of this situation. When it's done and over we will release a statement. Right now we are supporting one another praying for one another and our community."

The church has since closed its doors for two weeks.

Colby said that in contact tracing interviews, members of the church said that they had been following physical distancing guidelines.

"They were respecting physical distancing rules and so forth," Colby said. "But I note that it's a storefront church that is very small inside and we know that crowding can make a difference and that singing can make a difference."

Colby also said the health unit is not looking at new regulations for churches in the region, and that the case appeared to be unique among churches.

"Obviously there was a breakdown in precautions somewhere along the line. So we're going to start from square one and re-emphasize all of the precautions," he added.

'It is very scary'

Owner of More Than TZ Customizing Sami Ibari, whose shop is located right beside the church in the downtown strip, told CBC News Thursday that the number of cases and those self-isolating as a result of the community outbreak is alarming.

"It is very scary. We live in very close, tight community here and when you see it knocking at your door it make you very worried about what's going on," he said.

"I wish there's no harm will happen to that people who did have that disease and I wish that people around this area to be more concerned and take more precautions."

Katerina Georgieva/CBC
Katerina Georgieva/CBC

He said with so many people in one room, the precautions are maybe "not enough."

But the fact that the church is closed and the health unit is on top of the situation makes him feel at ease.

"What happened here [is] like a big awakening for other people around us to [take] more precautions."