Outbreak declared at church in Chatham-Kent after 31 cases reported: health officials

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More than 30 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to a southwestern Ontario church, forcing hundreds of people into self-isolation, public health officials said Friday. 

Nineteen cases were linked directly to the Blenheim Word of Life Church and 12 were among those people's close contacts, a spokesman for Chatham-Kent Public Health said. 

"Our initial look into the details shows the location was following public health guidelines (physical distancing, hand hygiene and mask usage) but we're still trying to ascertain the specific breakdown of this situation," Jeff Moco said. "Potential areas of inquiry will be around whether there was adequate ventilation, capacity size and the role of singing as this was a smaller sized venue."

One church attendee went to a blood services clinic and is believed to have infected a worker there, the department said.

A spokeswoman for Canadian Blood Services said the individual attended a mobile donor event in Chatham, and the agency has been working with public health authorities.

Public health officials said they have isolated and traced all contacts from the church, including close contacts of attendees, school contacts and blood donors from two blood services clinics.

About 400 individuals from Chatham-Kent, with 75 per cent related to the church outbreak, have been told to isolate, it said.

"We have worked with our community partners and have provided mobile testing at area schools and are currently following up and supporting the active cases," Moco said.

The church's pastor, Timothy Joyce, announced last week that they will temporarily close for at least two weeks.

He said he had close contact with a congregant who tested positive for the virus, but he did not test positive at the time.

Last month, a motion was put forward to municipal council members asking to exempt participants of churches and other religious facilities from being required to wear masks indoors.

The motion was denied.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 30, 2020.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press