79 cases of COVID-19 linked to Full Gospel worship event

Seventy-nine COVID-19 cases from various communities are connected to the Gospel Worship event in Prince Albert, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

That number includes close contacts of attendees. At least 250 people are included in the contact investigation.

In a press conference on Friday afternoon, chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said contact tracing is now reaching those who are known as a “second or third generation” of contacts.

Evangelist Ian Lavellee was served a $2,800 fine from public health “for failing to comply [with] social distancing and not wearing masks while singing in place of worship guidelines” according to a post on his Facebook page. Lavallee also asked friends to help pay the fine.

Early last week, the SHA identified a COVID-19 outbreak stemming from a series of revival events held at the Prince Albert Gospel Outreach Centre on Central Ave. Photos from the event show several people packed closely together in a small room with few, if any, wearing masks.

Organizers said they weren’t aware of the provincial guidelines regarding religious services, adding that hand sanitizer and masks were available for anyone who wanted them. They also said that people sang without wearing masks, in contravention of provincial guidelines.

This week, the outreach centre’s pastor confirmed to the Daily Herald that they had received a $14,000 fine. The church’s community is rallying to help pay off the charge.

A significant number of attendees of those events, though, are the same population housed in the city’s shelters and accessing the city’s affordable housing programs.

“As a service provider to the homeless population and the vulnerable population, (we’re) concerned about the actions that were taken by P.A. Gospel Outreach,” YWCA executive director Donna Brooks said.

“Even though they felt they did nothing wrong, they have to stop and think of the impact that it has on our vulnerable population who sleep in our shelters, enter shelters or enter programs and the cross-contamination there.”

Brooks said that, so far, no clients or staff have tested positive, but they’ve had to lock down a lot of these services since the outbreak was declared.

Shahab said event organizers should keep a list of names and phone numbers of attendees.

“That makes it easy that if there was a case at that event you just hand over that list, that’s the first thing I think that we all need to practice as business owners or as someone who is organizing any event at any venue,” Shahab said.

When it comes to vulnerable populations such as people experiencing homelessness, Scott Livingstone, CEO of SHA said that there needs to be collaboration between public health and other agencies.

“Part of the work with our most vulnerable is making sure that we use other agency collaboration, whether that’s in the far north or in our urban centres with our community based organizations to ensure that we’re getting testing [and] swabbing centres available where possible and we’re helping folks understand how to incorporate public health orders into the day to day interactions with our most vulnerable people,” Livingstone said.

There are 40 new COVID-19 cases across the province, which brings the active case total up 299. There are nine people in the hospital in the province and 12 new recoveries.

There are 8 new cases in the North Central zone bringing the active case total up to 61 with two people in hospital.

There are 3 new cases in Prince Albert, which is designated as North Central zone 2, with the total number of cases now rising to 34. North Central zone 1 has 5 new cases, and 24 overall. This zone includes Albertville, Big River, Birch Hills, Blaine Lake, Candle Lake, Canwood, Chitek Lake, Christopher Lake, Debden, Leask, Marcelin, Meath Park, Paddockwood, Parkside, Pebble Baye, Shellbrook, Timber Bay, Waskesiu, and Weirdale.

— with files from Peter Lozinski