An outbreak of COVID-19 at a conference for Salvation Army staff members has infected almost a third of those in attendance.
The outbreak, first reported last week by the Pioneer Press, has been confirmed by the Salvation Army Twin Cities, which says that at least 20 staff from Minnesota and North Dakota contracting the virus as a result.
The conference was held Oct. 6-8 at a camp near Finlayson, between the Twin Cities and Duluth, with around half of those invited attending in person – with 62 attending in total – with the others joining virtually.
In a statement to BMTN, Salvation Army Twin Cities spokesman Dan Furry said: "The Salvation Army has employed strict protocols that closely follow CDC and state guidelines in order to maintain the health and safety of its officers and staff. These protocols were in place at the conference, which mandated the wearing of masks, hand washing, social distancing, sanitization and gloves (for kitchen staff).
"These protocols were reaffirmed with announcements from the speaker’s podium and, when any observed lapses in protocol were observed, they were addressed."
But despite the Salvation Army saying it has strict COVID-19 protocols, the Pioneer Press reported – citing sources who were there – that not all attendees complied, noting that this was particularly the case "during congregational singing and during downtimes between work sessions and worship services," and that "old acquaintances greeted each other with hugs."
Furry said that a number of officers who attended the conference starting showing symptoms after their return, with the first notice of one feeling unwell being received on the evening of Saturday, Oct. 10.
However, no positive tests were confirmed until Monday, Oct. 12, with Furry noting that Divisional Commander Lt. Colonel Dan Jennings attended services on Sunday, Oct. 11 "without any confirmation or knowledge of a conference attendee having contracted the virus."
"Per our policy, we have quarantined all conference attendees (and those they interacted with), and are awaiting test results for many of the attendees," Furry said.
"Out of an abundance of caution we shut down our headquarters in the Twin Cities, as some officers who attended the conference had visited the headquarters building at the beginning of this week. We have also taken remedial measures at The Salvation Army field offices based on exposure and contact tracing. We will continue to work with our officers and employees to plan our return to our headquarters and field offices in a manner that is safe and complies with all applicable health guidance."
The Minnesota Department of Health has said that thus far it has only identified 5 cases connected with the conference, but that it's possible that some of those infected have either not been interviewed yet or not had their test results reported to MDH.