About 50 children attended the event at First Christian Church. The church says it alerted families when they found out. The Ministry of Health wanted more.
KEWANEE, Illinois – A vacation Bible school in Kewanee, Ill. Is now linked to several positive cases of covid. About 50 children attended the week-long event at First Christian Church, which said they took quick action when they found out what was going on.
Now, the Henry & Stark County Health Department is warning anyone who may be linked to the event, which was held July 12-15, to take precautions. Even a week later, the department says it is still seeing new positive cases emerging, which can be traced back to the church.
Senior Pastor John Reside says he received a call Thursday, July 15 from a parent whose child had attended earlier in the week.
“And the student had tested positive or Covid. So we quickly decided we were going to cancel the rest of the week, Friday night, and sent a letter home,” Reside said.
The letters were sent home with the students on Thursday evening, informing parents of the cancellation, the reason behind it and to watch for symptoms in their own children. First Christian has also canceled all in-person church activities for the next two weeks.
“We contacted the parents that night, whenever we first heard about it,” Reside said. “I think it was the right thing for us to do.”
Most of the children who were there all week were between the ages of 3 and 11 – too young for the vaccine.
First Christian said they monitored positivity rates before the event. There had been no new cases in the county two days before it started. The church had also planned to house everything outside, to help with social distancing, but said rain all week forced them inside.
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“We had looked at the data of what we had in Henry County and thought we were going to give it a try. We weren’t expecting that,” Reside noted. He was surprised at how quickly the virus spread through the group, saying that on Tuesday the health department had already confirmed at least five cases of VBS.
The department declined to comment on the number of positive cases currently linked to the event, but did confirm that the delta variant was found in a few of the cases.
However, Reside was also surprised to see a Facebook post from the health department on Wednesday afternoon alerting the public to the situation and calling the church for failing to hand over a list of everyone involved in its VBS.
“The Henry and Stark County Health Department reports that anyone attending or having children attending Kewanee First Christian Church Vacation Bible School July 12-15 may have been exposed to multiple people with Covid-19.
The health ministry has not received a list of attendees or close contacts for those attending holiday Bible school. Unfortunately, the information withheld is crucial for effective contact tracing; therefore, we believe it is important to alert the public to stem the spread of Covid cases. ”
RaeAnn Tucker is the director of health promotion at the ministry. She says the post was necessary because the church initially refused to give health officials a list of those attending the event.
“If we trace positive elements back to a business, organization or event, then we have a communication and we ask them for their call or their list of participation. It is very common, especially now in the pandemic”, a she declared. “The point is, we weren’t going to get that information right away. And we said, well, we’re actually empowered, we need it.”
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Hours after the publication, First Christian contacted the ministry with the list.
“A lesson can be learned,” Tucker said. “Healthcare and contact tracers are not the enemy, nor are they invaders of privacy. We are trying to stem the spread of infection.”
She says the pandemic is not over, especially for the unvaccinated. So, for future events, Tucker asks the organizers to call the department ahead of time and start a dialogue.
“The local health authorities are here to help,” she said. “There is no reason not to avoid their appeals. Everyone had better have this open dialogue.”
For Reside, the Facebook post was particularly shocking as he believed the church had already done a lot to warn families.
“We felt like we had already taken steps to try to make sure we contacted people and handled things safely,” he said. “We support the health department and agree with what they are trying to do. I come with them for giving the public a little more information on the steps we had already taken.”
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Now, Tucker is asking anyone who may be related to Vacation Bible School to watch for their symptoms and, if they are not vaccinated and show signs of Covid-19, immediately quarantine them.
“As this is literally the second day, some related people could still be infected, they just might not be symptomatic yet,” she says.