An Idaho pastor who told his parishioners they didn’t have to wear masks while attending church services has been hospitalized with COVID-19.
Candlelight Christian Fellowship in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, confirmed in a Monday statement on its website that senior pastor Paul Van Noy remained in a local hospital’s intensive care unit after testing positive for the coronavirus more than two weeks ago.
Van Noy’s wife, Brenda, and five other church staff members also tested positive, but were able to recover at home, according to the statement.
“They tell me it will be a few more days in ICU and then I will move back to a regular room for a couple of days and then to recover at home,” Van Noy is quoted as saying. “At present I feel OK but still need quite a bit of oxygen support — especially if and when I try to get up out of the bed.”
“I am watching in prayer that there are no new cases and we can all be back together — worshipping together as called — very soon,” he added. “Please pray for health and strength for all.”
According to The Spokesman-Review, the Candlelight Christian Fellowship has about 1,200 members and reopened for in-person services in May.
Van Noy’s diagnosis came weeks after the pastor declared himself a “no-masker” and implied that he was was skeptical of social distance measures.
“It has been clearly and scientifically proven that many masks do not aid in the prevention of COVID-19 transmission,” he wrote on Facebook July 17. “It is true that COVID-19 cases are in escalation here in our community and that the virus is real. However, the panic to ‘stop the world’ or mandate public compliance with less that free exercise is causing untold problems and pushback that will not be helpful.”
He doubled down on this stance in a July 22 sermon, footage of which was uploaded to YouTube and can be found below.
“I am a no-masker, personally,” he said. “I do not mind if people wear masks. I want people to be encouraged if they want to wear a mask, to wear a mask. But I don’t want to be told I have to wear a mask.”
(Van Noy’s comments on masks start at 7:41.)
In a follow-up statement published on the church’s website Thursday, Van Noy said he remained in the ICU.
“I will be continuing recovery and will be stronger yet,” he wrote. “We all will!”
In an interview with The Spokesman-Review published Wednesday, Candlelight Christian Fellowship’s body ministry coordinator Eric Reade said he and other church officials did not know how Van Noy contracted the coronavirus.
Idaho’s Kootenai County, where Candlelight Christian Fellowship is based, implemented a mask mandate in July. Even so, Reade reiterated that parishioners will not be required to wear masks if they attend services.
“The position is, if you feel comfortable wearing a mask, you can. If you’re not comfortable wearing a mask, you don’t have to,” he said. “Nobody is going to be criticized for whatever decision they make. We all have different opinions and approaches about things.”
According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 36,489 confirmed cases of COVID-19 cases in the state of Idaho, and more than 434 deaths. The state’s positivity rate stands at 12.87%.
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