Several people fall ill after attending religious festival, Kelowna pastor says

Several members of a Kelowna, B.C., church with a history of defying public health orders have fallen ill with “a cold, the flu, or COVID” after attending a religious retreat, according to the church pastor.

Earlier this year, the Harvest Church was fined multiple times by health authorities for holding church services in defiance of a ban on indoor gatherings.

In a prayer session posted publicly on social media, pastor Art Lucier said a number of congregants had become ill after attending a festival that was held in a rural area outside Kelowna on the weekend of Aug. 21-22.

In an email sent to congregants on Aug. 25, Lucier wrote that “many of our staff arrived [at the festival] not well to begin with, and others got sick part way through the event.”

Video of the festival posted by the church shows at least 30 people gathered in a large tent in close contact, not wearing masks.

60-70 people attended festival

Lucier declined an interview with The Vancouver Mail, but confirmed that 60 to 70 people attended the festival. He said a member of the church has since tested positive for COVID-19. Lucier said the church didn’t organize the festival, but wouldn’t say who did.

A screengrab of video showing the festival near Kelowna. (Screengrab/Harvest Church)

Worship services are exempt from current Interior Health restrictions, which otherwise limit capacity for indoor events to 50 people with a COVID-19 safety plan.

However, people are still being advised to stay home if they feel sick, to self-monitor and get tested if they have symptoms of the cold, flu or COVID-19.

Lucier said he has not been tested since the event.

Interior Health declared it is aware of the situation. 

“We are following up with these individuals to ensure everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is fully aware of their self-isolation expectations,” Interior Health wrote in an email. 

“Furthermore, for the remaining individuals in question, our environmental public health team is following up directly to investigate.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, an outbreak had not been declared, but Interior Health said if “broader risk to the community is determined,” a public announcement would be made. 

Pastor travelling to Vancouver Island 

In an email to congregants cancelling upcoming services, Lucier outlined the effect of the spreading illness on church operations. 

“This last weekend really bagged us out, and like most of our staff, we ended up with the flu,” he wrote. “This coming weekend was supposed to be led by pastors Rick and Bill, but they are under the weather as well. For these reasons, we are cancelling this coming weekend’s church services.”

However, Lucier said he planned to travel to Vancouver Island this weekend. Travel in and out of the Central Okanagan “should be avoided,” according to Interior Health.

The Harvest Church is part of a network of evangelical churches in Canada that have resisted health orders, claiming that rules have been implemented to prevent “the possibility of stadiums and conference centres being filled for Jesus.”

The Kelowna Harvest Church was part of an unsuccessful court challenge earlier this year that sought to strike down restrictions against religious gatherings.

Lucier has also called parishioners to resist B.C.’s vaccine card program, which is due to come into effect Sept. 13. 

The Interior Health region has been the centre of the fourth wave of COVID-19 in B.C., accounting for about half of all new cases, despite comprising only 15 per cent of the province’s population.

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