North Peace COVID-19 update

Susan Thomson
South Peace News

As cases continue to rise in Peace River and area, Points West Living is no longer accepting visitors in order to protect senior residents.
The new lockdown was announced in writing by general manager David Haastrup Aug. 19.
“It is our responsibility to ensure that we keep the residents and employees of PWL Peace River safe. We are therefore making the decision to suspend both indoor and outdoor visits effective immediately due to the number of active COVID-19 cases we have in the town of Peace River,” the e-mail says.
“Essential visitors for essential services will be allowed into the community after following the screening process. We will revisit the decision to lift the suspension of indoor and outdoor visits after a week.”
Points West Living currently has no active cases.

1 case at Mercer

One of Mercer Peace River’s contractors recently had symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19. Anyone in contact with that person has since monitored for symptoms and gone for testing, with no new cases to date.

COVID victim back to work

An employee at two Peace River car dealerships also tested positive about three weeks ago.
“He’s actually back to work now, with the cleared letter and everything like that. No other confirmed cases, we all got tested,” says Adam Hunsche, VP of both Go Auto dealerships in Peace River.
Hunsche says the dealerships contacted AHS regularly to confirm they didn’t need to shut down and what actions to take, and also sent out a letter from AHS to all staff the Saturday they found out their employee was positive. He says the letter did not ask employees to keep the case quiet.
“We’re not trying to hide anything,” says Hunsche.
Hunsche says Go Auto’s coronavirus measures are already quite strict, with policies and procedures coming down from corporate and regular meetings to review the issue. He says having Kelly Flynn on staff as general sales manager in Peace River with her background in healthcare also helps immensely, as she used to be director of public health for the north zone.
“Every desk has barricades up, we clean every night based on covid regulations from AHS, six-foot distancing at the dealerships, if you can’t you have to wear a mask,” Hunsche says.
Vehicles at the dealerships are also sanitized regularly.
“We definitely don’t take things lightly on our end to keep the staff and public safe from covid,” Hunsche says.

Outbreak from prayer event

A tent-revival style prayer event that took place on a farm in Deadwood north of Peace River over the August long weekend has meanwhile been linked to at least 32 cases of COVID-19.
Fifteen cases in Alberta have been traced back to the gathering, while 17 cases in BC have been tied to the event. Of the BC cases, 12 of the cases were people who attended the event and five more were close contacts of those confirmed cases.
The multiple cases in Fort St. John tied to the outbreak triggered an alert from BC’s Northern Health.
In Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw has asked anyone who attended the event or was a close contact of a confirmed case to get tested.
Between 200-300 people attended the event north of Peace River according to Dr. Hinshaw.
Evangelist and organizer Chris Lindberg put together a pamphlet and made Facebook posts before the event stating it was capped at 100 people due to the pandemic.
Covid safety plans for the event meanwhile included mandatory temperature checks, signing a health waiver and complimentary hand sanitizer and masks. It is unclear how many of the registered attendees at the event wore the masks.
In a Facebook video posted on Aug. 12, Lindberg said he himself had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
“Actually, COVID is quite good,” Lindberg says.
“We’ve been working. Getting farm equipment ready. Really we haven’t had a day off. We’ve been pushing through. If this is COVID, I guess I have it. I know other people have different reactions.”
Lindberg’s Facebook page appears to have since been taken down.
Peace River Councillor Byron Schamehorn was supportive of the event on Facebook before it happened.
“I know Chris very well. Same home town church etc,” Schame- horn says.
However, Schame- horn says he didn’t attend the Deadwood event.
The hometown church Schamehorn and Lindberg both attended is in Manning.
The Manning Family Worship Centre announced in a video posted Aug. 14 that there was a possibility some of the leadership of the church had been exposed to the virus at the Deadwood event, and as such they had decided to get tested. Due to church leaders self-isolating while awaiting the test results, the church cancelled online worship services for Sunday, Aug. 16.
First Baptist Church in Peace River, which Schamehorn currently attends, has a confirmed case of COVID-19.
According to a letter sent out Aug. 18 and signed “Church Leadership,” a church member who attended services tested positive.
“Please note this is not related to the It Is Time event in Deadwood,” the letter says.
“After consultation with AHS, we ask that anyone who was at Sunday’s service to please be monitoring for symptoms and be following AHS guidelines if you need to be tested.”
“At this time, the church has not been requested for contact tracing or mandatory testing/self-isolation.”
The letter, which does not name the person who was infected, also asks people to keep the information confidential and “within the church family.”
Reached via both Facebook message and phone for comment, Pastor Nathan Friedt would state only that anyone who is concerned should contact AHS and then hung up. He would not answer if the church is taking any additional precautions or making any further changes to worship services going forward.
The COVID-19 measures listed on the church’s website have not changed.
“We are very thankful to be back in our building for Sunday services, as well as our weekly Bible studies and prayer meeting. In addition, we are continuing to stream our entire service [YouTube & Facebook] for those who do not feel ready to join us in person,” the website’s homepage states.
Other measures listed include organizing church spaces to facilitate social distancing, hand sanitizer at entrances and throughout the building, altering how offerings are taken and postponing communion.
The church posted an announcement on Aug. 11 that the basement would start to be used as a family zone with activity tables set up spaced six feet from each other.
AHS confirms they have communicated with the church and encourage all Albertans to monitor themselves for symptoms. Individuals experiencing symptoms must follow all public health guidelines and measures, and are encouraged to get tested.
“Internal communications is a decision that falls to individual businesses and churches,” says Logan Clow, AHS senior communications advisor for the North Zone. “If there is a public risk, AHS will undertake public communications.”
Businesses and churches are not legally allowed to name anyone with a positive test due to medical confidentiality. Dr. Hinshaw has appealed to the public to not stigmatize those who get ill, as it makes contact tracing more difficult when people feel ashamed.
The Town of Peace River has not yet made a decision on whether to make masks mandatory for local businesses and places of worship through a bylaw. The Town is currently gathering public feedback through an online survey and councillors will revisit the issue in early September.
Meanwhile, Alberta’s 90,000 teachers have been asked to get voluntarily tested for COVID-19 before school starts in September, which has helped add to long line-ups for local testing.

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