Two Highlands East churches are recovering after COVID-19 outbreaks resulted in nine confirmed cases.

In a letter dated April 16, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit shared information about the outbreak at the St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Highland Grove and the Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Cardiff. HKPR corporate communications manager Chandra Tremblay said there are six cases associated with St. John and three with Our Lady of Lourdes.

The outbreaks were declared over April 19 as 14 days had passed since the last exposure. Pastor Vic Valles said the churches had been closed since April 4 due to the outbreak, but he only knew of one person who experienced any symptoms.

“I’m really concerned, but at the same time, we are trying to do the best that we can,” Valles said. “We try not to congregate, so each individual family has been very careful in isolating themselves.”

The province has allowed religious services to carry on, with the district churches previously allowing 30 per cent capacity indoors before the April 1 shutdown. The rules shifted to 15 per cent capacity with the shutdown and is now down to 10 persons indoors or outdoors as of April 17.

Tremblay said the church notified parishioners and anyone who was a high-risk contact received a letter outlining testing and quarantine requirements. The health unit said there was a confirmed case at St. John March 27 and April 4. There was also a confirmed case at Our Lady of Lourdes April 1, April 2 and April 4.

Valles said it is hard to determine exactly how the transmission occurred. For now, the buildings are remaining closed given the lockdown.

“Holding off right now until the Ministry of Health says something,” Valles said. “Ten people is a really small crowd for a community that gathers for worship, but what do you do? The government is also looking after the health of the community. Whatever instructions they give, we try to follow.

“In the meantime, we just have to kind of bite the bullet here.”

Valles said he does not have the tools to do virtual, online services that other churches are doing. But he said there are other options for locals to visit online services, such as through Peterborough churches.

School bus riders in quarantine

The health unit also notified riders of a specific Haliburton Highlands Secondary School bus about a COVID-19 case.

The health unit sent a letter April 18 for people on Bus 57. It said that there was a confirmed case on the bus and that people who were on it April 8 have been identified as close contacts.

As a result, staff and youth on the bus are required to quarantine at home until April 22. It said essential activities could resume on April 23 if there are no symptoms.

Schools are closed this week after the spring break due to the provincial stay-at-home order.


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