On Oct.13 The Current published a news release from Renfrew County and District Health Unit (RCDHU) advising of yet another COVID-19 outbreak in Madawaska Valley Township. RCDHU revealed that several cases are related to an event at The Holy Canadian Martyrs RC Church (HCM) in Combermere on Sept.26.
For those who may have missed the report, it included the following statements from RCDHU:
“We are encouraging any individuals who feel they may have been exposed to seek testing and self-isolate and self-report if they develop symptoms of COVID-19.”
“RCDHU is asking this of community members due to information received during case and contact management of high-risk contacts. There is concern that some individuals may still be infected with COVID-19, and we are trying to prevent further spread.”
In response to this report, The Current was contacted by several concerned readers who told us that the number of COVID-19 cases reported by RCDHU are likely just the tip of the iceberg. This is because certain families and groups adopt strategies to try to place themselves outside any risk of being identified and tested for COVID-19 infection. The Current was referred to articles published by, among others, LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) which has a significant following in the Madawaska Valley. An example is an article compiled by Kathy Dopp entitled ‘Resources for fighting mandates against COVID injections, masks, COVID tests.’ The “resources” include advice on staging protests, sample letters and exemption forms, challenging COVID tests and contact tracing, where to buy fake masks, etc.
Having seen an Oct.14 Bulletin to parishioners from HCM temporary Parish Administrator Fr. Murray Kuemper, The Current forwarded it to Dr. Rob Cushman, Acting Medical Officer of Health for RCD, for comment. The Bulletin referenced an “exemption” apparently from RCDHU that allows some unmasked church goers to sit in a specific zone – something Fr. Kuemper referred to as a “compromise situation.” Dr. Cushman responded to say he had reached out to Fr. Kuemper about this. In a follow-up call Dr. Cushman advised that he and Fr. Kuemper had discussed the so-called “exemption” area in the church, and confirmed that neither of them could find any documentary evidence supporting such an exemption.
Holy Canadian Martyrs new policy ‘No mask, no Mass‘
On Oct.16, after discussions with Dr. Cushman and Pembroke Diocese Bishop Guy DesRochers and having reviewed its protocols for “attendance at Mass and other uses of Holy Canadian Martyrs Church,” HCM Parish Council emailed a letter to all parishioners. That letter acknowledged that many parishioners are concerned about the situation where persons refuse to wear masks, as well as churchgoers who for a number of months have sat in the church’s designated mask-free area (as referenced above). The letter goes on to say, “Following a meeting of the Parish Council this afternoon, the Council has voted in favour of the following course of action, and this has been accepted and ratified by Fr. Murray Kuemper:
“Because of the particular COVID exposure in the Combermere area, it is now out of prudence and reassurance for the majority of parishioners of Holy Canadian Martyrs Parish that we have decided to cease the designated area for non-maskers at Holy Canadian Martyrs Church. Those with credible exemptions and all non-maskers who have previously been given seating in this area are required to wear a mask upon entering the church, or they should stay at home. This is a temporary measure put in place because of the specific COVID outbreak in the area. It is to be noted that the general exemption from the Sunday Mass obligation is still effective in the Diocese of Pembroke. The ceasing of the exemption area in the church is to be effective immediately and upheld up to and including Sunday December 12, 2021, in order to reassure the majority of the faithful. At that time, this decision will be revisited by both the Parish Council and the Diocese of Pembroke, according to actual circumstances.”
Isolation means stay at home, don’t come to church
The Parish Council’s letter to HCM parishioners continues:
“In making this decision, we are asking the cooperation of all parishioners in following the procedures that are required for attendance at the parish. This includes self-monitoring for symptoms and not coming if they are present. Anyone who is subject to an isolation order from RCDHU is to follow its requirements strictly and is not to come to the Church, masked or not. Upon arrival, a mask will be offered to those without, and if not accepted, we ask you not to enter. Use of sanitizer, temperature checks, signing in and appropriate distancing are to be followed by all. We are asking the good will and Christian charity of all parishioners and visitors to be exemplary.” [Emphasis copied from original letter.]
Madawaska Valley is an “anomaly”
During our discussions with Dr. Cushman, The Current also asked him about the current rate of COVID-19 infections in Madawaska Valley. As in previous RCDHU communications, Dr. Cushman acknowledged this was “out of character” for a municipality in RCD saying, “It’s an anomaly.” The numbers reveal that there is a higher incidence of resistance to public health initiatives and vaccine hesitancy here in Madawaska Valley than in the more heavily-populated regions in RCD. (Scroll down for The Current’s comparison chart)
Dr. Cushman pointed out that regarding the outbreak and possible exposure at Holy Canadian Martyrs on Sept.26, the health unit found that while some members of the multi-generational families involved were uncooperative, there were other family members who cooperated fully for testing, vaccination and contact tracing.
RCD municipalities COVID-19 cases compared
For our readers’ convenience, The Current provides the following chart comparing COVID-19 case numbers reported from all RCD municipalities in the past few weeks. Of the 30 new cases in the total RCD population of more than 110,000 over a third of them (i.e. 13 cases) are in Madawaska Valley (population just over 4,000). The region’s largest town, Petawawa (population more than 18,500), reported no new cases during the same period.