Several cases of COVID have been reported from a recent youth conference in Courtenay. (CDC image)

Several cases of COVID have been reported from a recent youth conference in Courtenay. (CDC image)

COVID cases linked to Courtenay youth conference

Consumed Youth Conference organizers had expanded safety and cleaning protocols

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.

The Record 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 10th exposures, with exposure dates listed as Nov. 23, 24, 25 and 26.

More school exposures

As well, Comox’sEcole Au-coeur-de-l’île reported six more exposures as of Dec. 6, with exposure dates listed from Nov. 22 to Dec. 1.

Aspen Park’s third exposure was listed on Dec. 2, with exposure dates of Nov. 22, 23 and 25.

École Robb Road is a new addition to the tracker website. The school is reporting an exposure on Nov. 26.

Arden Elementary in Courtenay is reporting two new exposure events, with Nov. 24, 25 and 26 as exposure dates, giving it four exposures since Nov. 28.

Queneesh Elementary has reported its first exposure in nearly a month. The exposure date was Dec. 1.

Courtenay Elementary was added to the website on Dec. 6, for an exposure event on Nov. 30.

Valley View Elementary also reported two new exposures over the weekend, with exposure dates listed as Nov. 29, 30 and Dec. 1 (reported Dec. 5) and Dec. 2, 3 and 4 (reported Dec. 6).

École Puntledge Park was also added to the website on Dec. 6, for an exposure event Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.