Paul Van Noy, senior pastor at Candlelight Church in Coeur d’Alene, has spent two weeks in the hospital with a Covid-19 diagnosis, ministry coordinator Eric Reade confirmed to CNN. Five other church staff were infected with coronavirus, too, but they’ve all recovered, he said.

“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,” he said in a statement through the church.

His wife also contracted Covid-19 but wasn’t hospitalized, according to the church. The couple are two of over 3,050 cases in the Northwest Idaho area, local health data shows.

Candlelight Church shut its doors temporarily in March but reopened for in-person services in early May. Van Noy’s church doesn’t require parishioners to wear masks, though they’re welcome to, Reade told CNN.

In a July 22 service that was posted online, Van Noy said while he doesn’t mind if other people wear masks, he didn’t “want to be told” he needed to wear a mask. He also said he wouldn’t comply if the city ordered him to halt in-person services, though the church also livestreams its services. Nationwide, church leaders have been fined — and even arrested — for holding services during the pandemic. In a July Facebook post, Van Noy falsely claimed that wearing masks doesn’t prevent Covid-19 transmission, and he urged his parishioners not to fear the “cause or effect of Covid-19.” Multiple international studies have shown that wearing masks, paired with persistent social distancing, are the most effective ways to prevent transmission of coronavirus. Effective face masks keep asymptomatic people from sneezing, coughing or spitting out droplets that contain the virus and prevent the wearer from breathing in someone else’s virus-bearing droplets.

“May we keep our heads at a time like this,” Van Noy wrote. “And, may we defend our freedoms lest they quickly disappear. 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.”

Van Noy’s church will soon host two controversial figures who’ve flouted coronavirus guidelines and questioned mask mandates: Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative student group Turning Point USA, and Rob McCoy, a California pastor who was fined for holding indoor church services despite Covid-19 restrictions. The men will speak at services later this month to “work to make sense of what the church’s proper role in America can and should be in the face of increasing opposition and cultural animosity.” Pacific Northwest newspaper the Spokesman-Review reported that the event with Kirk and McCoy will be held in-person.



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