More than 200 people in Saint John are self-isolating because of possible exposure to a COVID-19 variant during Palm Sunday service at RiverCross Church, after they were originally told they didn’t need to, according to an email obtained by CBC News.
An adult and child from the same family who attended the March 28 service at the church in the city’s north end have tested positive, and “the exposure was likely a COVID-19 variant,” senior pastor Rob Nylen advised parishioners on April 6 shortly before 10 p.m.
“I can only imagine how disappointed and frustrated you were to hear the news that you had a potential exposure a few days ago,” he wrote. “This can be shocking to hear.”
Parishioners who attended the service were initially notified on April 3 that someone had tested positive, but the Department of Health had deemed the risk “low,” according to an email from Nylen and the co-chairs of the board of deacons.
“While we are not required to notify you, we want to be fully transparent,” the email stated. “We would ask that you monitor yourself for symptoms and if you are not feeling well, get a COVID test.”
The instructions changed on April 6, however, after tests showed a child from the same family, who attended the RiverKids child-care program on March 28, likely has the variant.
“Because the virus is different, the advice from Public Health on how to respond is different,” the email said.
“Therefore, all 209 of you who attended worship on March 28th were (or will be) required to isolate until midnight Sunday April 11th and being asked to get a COVID-19 test.”
Public Health is treating the case as a “presumptive variant of concern,” confirmed spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane.
“Out of an abundance of caution and keeping the public’s safety in mind, we are treating this case as a presumptive variant of concern that requires laboratory confirmation from National Microbiology Laboratory,” he said in an emailed statement.
Macfarlane could not say which variant it might be.
Asked why parishioners were not told to isolate as soon as the first person tested positive, he said: “Once laboratory results revealed a variant of concern for the related case, Public Health directly called impacted contacts and provided public health guidance by Public Health staff.”
Kyle Rogers, his pregnant wife Celeste, and their 15-month-old son Benjamin are on Day 3 of their self-isolation.
They got tested Thursday and their results all came back negative, he said.
Still, Rogers worries that parishioners were going about their usual lives for 10 days.
“It definitely always is a worry, given the asymptomatic nature [of COVID-19] and all of that. And that’s why we decided to go get tested right away,” he said.
“We just wanted to make sure that we were all good and just praying that everyone else is OK. We haven’t heard anything else that’s come about from it, which is fantastic so far.”
Rogers said it was their first time attending the church since the pandemic began. They were masked and sat at the back.