Pastor Who Told Congregation They Didn't Have to Wear Masks Hospitalized in ICU with COVID-19
"Having been in the ICU now for 11 days…and counting, I am really starting to turn the corner—for the better," Paul Van Noy said
A pastor in Idaho has been hospitalized with the novel coronavirus after telling members of his congregation that they are not required to wear face masks while attending church services.
Paul Van Noy, the senior pastor at Candlelight Christian Fellowship, was admitted to the intensive care unit after he and his wife Brenda contracted COVID-19, according to an update posted to his church's website on Monday.
"Having been in the ICU now for 11 days…and counting, I am really starting to turn the corner—for the better," Van Noy said in a statement shared by his wife and church staff. "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. 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 thank the Lord for all the support I have been shown and especially from Brenda as she too has had a battle with the Covid-19 herself. I am thankful she did not need to be hospitalized…" he continued.
"I pray daily for all the staff and members of Candlelight—and the other churches. I am watching in prayer that there are no new cases and we can all be back together—worshipping together as called—very soon," Van Noy said. "Please pray for health and strength for all. We are called to such a time as this—to represent the Lord!"
Van Noy added in a statement on Thursday that he's been in the ICU for over two weeks, and has "been told it will be a few more days until I even get from the ICU to a regular room."
"Even then, the journey back maybe weeks in all," he said. "I will be continuing recovery and will be stronger yet—we all will!"
Though face masks are mandated in Kootenai County, where the Candlelight Christian Fellowship is based, Van Noy previously said on his Facebook that attendees of his church would not be required to wear face coverings.
"I have said here at Candlelight, 'If a person wants to wear a mask they should be allowed to do so. However, if they don’t, that’s ok too,' " he wrote in a July 17 post. "We will not close down our church, we will not stop singing praises to the Lord, and we will not be required to wear masks or refrain from allowing those who wish to wear one the opportunity."
While Van Noy did recently order Candlelight Christian Fellowship to shut down all programs for 13 days to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the church's stance on face masks will remain the same, according to body ministry coordinator Eric Reade.
“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,” Reade told The Spokesman-Review. “Nobody is going to be criticized for whatever decision they make.”
Reade said five other church staffers have also contracted COVID-19.
As of Thursday, there have been more than 6,696,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 197,400 deaths from coronavirus-related illnesses in the United States, according to a New York Times database.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.