Chatham-Kent church outbreak put nearly 500 people into isolation

Chatham-Kent Public Health has used a visual to chart the spread and show the impact of a COVID-19 outbreak that started at a place of worship.

Outbreak at the Word of Life Church in Blenheim led to 40 COVID-19 cases

Blenheim Word of Life Church (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Chatham-Kent Public Health has released a graphic to show the far-reaching impacts of a COVID-19 outbreak at a local church that led to nearly 500 people isolating. 

According to the graphic, 21 people who tested positive for the disease attended a place of worship, which is the Word of Life Church in Blenheim. Chatham-Kent Public Health declared an outbreak at the church late last month.

This set off a chain of events that ended with 40 people testing positive for COVID-19 in 24 separate households, three of whom were hospitalized. The virus' spread was not contained to any one industry or area, and affected everything from the church itself to group living settings to households to a blood donor clinic

"We are sharing information about this outbreak now to show how easily COVID-19 can spread, and how we all need to work together to stop it," Chatham-Kent Public Health said in a news release.

The graphic was based on data collected in October.

Laura Zettler, an epidemiologist with Chatham-Kent Public Health, says the unit wanted the visual to serve as a reminder to the public.

"Really this visual was meant to show that what all of us do really matters, and it's truly a community effort to contain COVID-19," she said.

The graphic released by Chatham-Kent Public Health illustrates the virus' spread over five generations. (Chatham-Kent Public Health)

"Everyone that's part of the visual were all doing regular, everyday things ... going to church, going to work and doing things to help others, going to school, spending time with their family and friends. So many people were potentially exposed just doing everyday activities," she added. "Nothing extravagant, no big gatherings, and in settings where precautionary measures are in place. This is how easy this spreads ... and why our collective efforts are so important right now."

Effects go beyond infected

Zettler said the unit felt it was important to emphasize that the effects of the outbreak were not limited to those who tested positive. Nearly 500 people had to self-isolate, including members of the church, 170 people attending school and 180 people who attended blood donor clinics.

"If we just look at the people who tested positive, that's really not looking at all the other lives that were impacted by this outbreak," Zettler said. 

In a video accompanying the graphic, Chatham-Kent medical officer of health Dr. David Colby echoed that thought.

"We were lucky, with a lot of effort, we were able to keep our numbers down to only 40 positives with this outbreak, but look at all this trouble for people," he said while motioning to the graphic. "This is not a blame game. Everybody who's referred to here is a victim, not a cause. But we all have a role to play."

And for the Word of Life Church itself, the recovery process has only just started.

In a Facebook message to CBC News, a representative from the church declined to do an interview, but said that the outbreak is over and that the church would like to move on.

According to the church's Facebook page, it has reopened its soup kitchen and food bank this week. 

"Well soup kitchen opened today for the first time in several weeks, it felt so good to be back doing what we love to do and what we know God has called us to do," a Wednesday post reads. "That was our biggest concern during our shut down, our friends on the streets of Blenheim. I can't tell you how much we missed seeing each one, it's not about just handing out food, it goes much deeper than that."