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COVID cases linked to Vancouver Island youth conference

Comox Valley’s Consumed Youth Conference was within COVID guidelines at the time of the event
Several cases of COVID have been reported from a recent youth conference in Courtenay. (CDC image)

Some COVID-19 cases have circulated among participants of a church conference for young people in the Comox Valley.

The Consumed Youth Conference took place in Courtenay over the Nov. 19-21 weekend. In the days following the event, reports started surfacing on Northgate Church’s Facebook page about participants reporting that they had tested positive.

The Courtenay church has also issued updates on its website about the COVID issue as well as video updates on its Facebook page, saying it was taking precautionary measures such as moving Sunday services online in response and postponing other programming.

“We acknowledge the dangerous and transferable nature of COVID-19. We also remain vigilant in our adherence to the direction and advice of public health as we take proactive steps forward,” Lead Pastor Evan Allnut said in a statement.

In the following week, several other people posted on the Facebook page about positive tests.

“Obviously, it was extremely upsetting,” Pastor Brian Aiken told the Record. “We care about our community.”

He talked about the situation to clarify the church made decisions to hold off on in-person events after hearing about the first couple of cases on Tuesday, Nov. 23 following the conference. The event organizers then contacted all group leaders from the event to encourage isolation and help with contact tracing.

Even before the conference, the organizers had taken extra precautions as far as cleaning protocols and masks.

The attendees ate on site, and the organizers took the step of cancelling any outings such as a planned pool visit to keep people in one place, even though they had already paid for the facility.

“When you were there, you were there,” Aiken said.

The participants came primarily from the church community on Vancouver Island. Aiken has heard from participants, even some who tested positive, about how important the event was as a communal gathering for the young people, especially in light of the extended periods of social distancing due to COVID restrictions. The conference for 2020 had been cancelled.

Black Press reached out to Island Health for clarity on guidelines for such conferences, and received the following statement:

“In general, programs for children and youth, including overnight programs, are allowed under Provincial Health Officer orders related to gatherings and events. This would include a youth conference with a combination of worship and child and youth programming.

“Proof of vaccination is not required for worship services or indoor youth programs for people 21 years or younger.

“Earlier in November, there were no capacity limits or restrictions for worship services. On Nov. 30, the Provincial Health Officer announced changes to the orders with respect to worship services.”

RELATED STORY: COVID closes Comox school for one week, 6 other Valley schools with confirmed exposures

The church is affiliated with the Phil & Jennie Gaglardi Academy in Comox, which stopped in-person classes temporarily in response to several COVID cases. As of Dec. 1, an online school tracker for cases noted ninth and tenth exposures, with exposure dates listed as Nov. 23, 24, 25 and 26. As well, Comox’s Au Couer de L’ile reported two more exposures as of Dec. 1, with exposure dates listed as Nov. 23-25 and Nov. 29. Five other schools in the Comox Valley had reported exposures in late November.

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