WDG Public Health orders closure of Old Order Mennonite churches and schools
KITCHENER -- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph's top doctor has ordered all Old Order Mennonite churches and schools to close to help address the growing risk of COVID-19.
Dr. Nicola Mercer, Medical Officer of Health, has also ordered members of the community to follow health instructions and gathering restrictions.
Public health officials said there are two known outbreaks in the community and "uptake of public health measures has been low." They also said they know of confirmed cases, but haven't been able to conduct contact tracing.
“I am saddened by the need for this extraordinary step,” Dr. Mercer said in a news release. “I do not take the issuing of Section 22 Orders lightly, but COVID-19 poses a serious health risk to the Old Order Mennonite Community and to all of us in the region. Sometimes we need to make difficult decisions to prevent the unchecked spread of this virus.”
The health unit said preventing transmission hot spots is necessary to contain the disease.
Officials will continue working with the community to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
A dozen schools in rural Mennonite communities will be shut down under the order.
Dr. Mercer said the orders were hand-delivered, since many in the community don't have email or social media.
Public health officials also opened a testing centre last week, but said no one visited it.
They declared a school outbreak on Nov. 7, and three days later there was an outbreak related to a large wedding in Harriston.
Dr. Mercer said there's been a lack of cooperation.
"There are many individuals in the community who are ill and they are not getting tested and they are not actually always forthcoming in the information they are giving us about who their contacts are," Dr. Mercer said.
Marlene Epp, a Mennonite studies professor at the University of Waterloo, said Old Order Mennonites are traditionally very conservative.
"The Old Order Mennonite church would be amongst those rejecting many forms of modern technology," she said.
Dr. Mercer said the relationship between the community and local leaders is strengthening.
"Issuing an order to this community has actually started a really good conversation," she said.
Dr. Mercer also said anyone not following the orders could face a $5,000 fine, but added she hopes it doesn't come to that.