COVID-19 outbreak at north Edmonton church linked to 15 circumstances

Public health officials are investigating a COVID-19 outbreak at a north Edmonton church that spread among the congregation for more than two weeks.

During Tuesday’s COVID-19 update, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the Bible Pentecostal Church at 13054 112th St. had been linked to 15 confirmed cases.

“It is a stark reminder that coming together in large gatherings risks sharing more than fellowship, it risks sharing the COVID-19 virus,” Hinshaw said.

“We need to take this as a reminder that all of us have to follow all measures tenaciously, even if we are tired of washing our hands, wearing a mask, and not being able to hug the people we care about.”

Alberta Health is advising anyone who attended the church between July 26 and Aug. 12 — and anyone who is a close contact of someone who attended — to book a COVID-19 test online and monitor for symptoms.

The church, which Hinshaw said has a membership of about 150 individuals, has been added to the list of outbreaks in the Edmonton zone on the province’s COVID-19 website.

Former parishioner Amanda Potts said services were suspended last week but church officials have not informed the congregation of the outbreak.

She said her mother and sister attended services recently. She said her sister is now showing COVID symptoms and waiting for a test.

Potts grew up in the church but stopped attending about eight years ago. She said her mother and her sister have attended for 30 years.

Her mother and sister were contacted by government health officials on Sunday but the information is still not publicly available, she said.

Potts said the lack of notification is concerning, especially for her mother, a senior and a cancer survivor who was in close proximity with a churchgoer who later tested positive.

“Last week, my sister got a call that church was canceled and everyone was wondering, ‘What is going on?'” she said.

“My mom never did get a call and then it turns out, through the grapevine, we found out that people at the church had been diagnosed with COVID but it was all kept secret.”

Services at Bible Pentecostal Church in north Edmonton have been suspended as health officials investigate an outbreak of COVID-19. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

The church, in the Lauderdale neighborhood, has a congregation of more than 100 people. Services are held at least three times a week, on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

As of Tuesday morning, a handwritten sign was posted on the door of the church.

“All church services are postponed until Sunday, August 26,” it said.

CBC News has called the church office and the congregation’s pastor. The calls have not been returned.

Alberta Health officials said they are working to control the spread.

“In all outbreaks, health officials take swift action to protect the public and limit the spread,” Alberta Health spokesperson Sherene Khaw said in an emailed statement.

“All positive cases are isolated, aggressive contact tracing is underground, and health officials investigate possible sources of transmission and any epidemiological links.”

In an email to CBC News on Tuesday afternoon, Alberta Health Services officials said contact tracing is underground for those connected to this outbreak, and those considered at risk have been informed of the outbreak.

“As per standard practice, AHS directly contacts any individual considered exposed to confirmed cases, and these individuals are asked to self-isolate and be tested for COVID-19.

“Only those individuals contacted directly by AHS are considered exposed to any case.”

AHS said it is working with church leaders and has been provided a membership list.

“Internal communications is a decision that falls to individual organizations,” reads the email.

“If there is a public risk, AHS will undertake public communications.”

‘What took so long?’

Potts said in-person services at church were suspended this spring. They resumed a few weeks ago with physical distancing and mask protocols, she said.

She said a public notice should have been posted immediately to the Alberta Health Services website. Everyone in the congregation should have been informed of the risk of exposure, she said.

“Why didn’t Alberta Health Services figure this out quicker?

“From what I understand, the first case was detected over a week ago, so what took so long?”

Notifications of outbreaks are required under the provincial Public Health Act. Medical officers of health are accountable for outbreak investigation and management.

According to Stage 2 guidelines for places of worship operating during the pandemic, if there is an on-site exposure, all staff, congregants and volunteers present at the time of the exposure should be notified that an exposure may have occurred.

Attendance lists from the time of the exposure should be shared with Alberta Health Services for contact tracing purposes.

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