A church in Courtenay coming under fire after a youth retreat has led to a COVID-19 outbreak.
The retreat, called the Consumed Youth Conference, took place during the Nov. 19-21 weekend at Northgate Church and was attended by 350 kids between Grades 6 and 12.
One attendee posted a video of the youth conference, which shows many teens dancing without masks or physical distancing.
Jessica Livingstone, a Campbell River mom whose health is currently compromised and she’s worried about contracting COVID-19, says she finds the video showing lots of teens dancing near a stage most concerning.
“There are no masks. There are no hand-washing stations. There was no social distancing. You know it was just a bunch of youth and adults basically in a Petri dish,” said Livingstone.
Based on school exposure information following the conference Livingstone believes dozens of people, if not more, came down with COVID-19 from the event across Vancouver Island. She says hearing about the resulting COVID-19 cases is scary.
“It’s really irresponsible. That’s a lot of children in a small place and the video that’s been circling around that keeps getting removed by no means is it a conference,” said Livingstone.
Stephani Hyde, a mom and care-aid in the Courtenay, says she’s been indirectly impacted after there were 15 COVID-19 exposures at her daughter’s school, some directly linked to the event.
“I’ve had to keep my children home from school for the last two weeks and home school them,” said Hyde, a mother of two girls, who attend Arden Elementary.
She says the church should never have held such a large event.
“I think it’s ignorant and I think they owe the community an apology,” said Hyde.
Matt Morrison, Northgate Church’s communications manager, says there was extra cleaning and hand sanitizer was available at the events. He also says the event was permitted under the public health orders.
“At the time, the public health order was that this would fall into the religious exemption order, which meant no vaccine mandates were required and there were no capacity limits,” said Morrison.
The church thought it had a good safety plan in place but, Morrison says if they could do things differently and improve, they would.
“Our team did go over and above actually letting all the staff, leaders, kids in attendance know that masks would be mandatory. Obviously, we’ve seen the pictures and videos and now know that wasn’t followed as we had hoped and that was disappointing.”
Although the church posted a lengthy statement on its webpage about the incident, Morrison also apologized for any role the church may have played in causing the COVID-19 cluster in the Comox Valley.
“There is a lot of disappointment across the valley and so for any part that Northgate might have played in that we want you to know we’re truly sorry,” he says.
In a statement, Island Health says “the current daily case counts across the Island Health region cannot be solely attributed to this cluster.” The health authority also says the outbreaks aren’t causing any “serious” outcomes in the community.
“These community cases are occurring in a highly vaccinated population and we are not observing serious health outcomes related to this cluster,” it said in its statement to CHEK News.