The pastor who presided over one of the funerals at the centre of a cluster of COVID-19 cases in St. John’s says he doesn’t blame anyone for his exposure to the coronavirus.
Pastor Paul Lundrigan, 57, says he’s free of any symptoms of the coronavirus — coughing, fever and shortness of breath — so far, but acknowledges it could be up to two weeks after exposure that symptoms could occur. All the same, he’s self-isolating for the next two weeks.
Lundrigan says he was informed by Caul's Funeral Home on Sunday evening that someone had tested positive for COVID-19 who had attended the wakes.
“I always knew that it was a possibility. This thing has been spreading very quickly. We’ve been warned for some time now about social distancing and the danger of contracting this virus, not only to ourselves but to people around us,” said Lundrigan.
“I’d been practising, as much as possible, the safety protocols that had been advertised and talked about in the media. I’m not a germaphobe, but I’ve always been very conscious of trying to avoid germs as much as possible because I have so much contact in the public, especially with elderly people.”
Chief medical officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says she can’t say for certain at this stage how many people have been exposed to COVID-19 after attending last week’s wakes at Caul’s Funeral Home.
“What we know is that many are related to close contact within that cluster, which is not an unusual situation to see,” Fitzgerald said during Tuesday’s COVID-19 provincial update.
“It’s not necessarily one person who’s spreading it to all of those people. It could be that one person spread it to someone else, who then spread it. The investigation is ongoing and it does appear that most of the cases are within close contacts.”
Lundrigan says he spent only a few minutes at the wake to speak with family members in preparation for the funeral service.
At the time of the funeral, the government had discouraged crowds of more than 50 people from gathering. That order has since been brought down to gatherings of no more than 10. He says the family members discouraged others from attending the funeral service, which saw a degree of success, but he estimates more than 50 people attended the funeral.
Lundrigan says he noticed people taking social distancing measures at the funeral, which he says was an encouraging sign.
“I noticed a few people who got up and moved to another pew just to ensure there was more distance between them and the person who had gotten in the pew in front of them,” he said.
“They did distance themselves, so it was pretty good that way.”
Because Lundrigan is not currently exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, he has not been tested by the Department of Health, nor has contact tracing begun in his case. Those who are exhibiting symptoms are asked by the department to complete a self-assessment form or call 811 for further steps.
But Lundrigan says he’s concerned for his parents.
“Unfortunately, my parents are in their early 80s. I’ve been to visit them a few times, had a meal with them this past weekend before I found out any of this,” he said.
“Again, I’m hoping that all the safety precautions that I’ve been trying to take have paid off. That I don’t have this and I did not pass it on to my elderly parents or anybody else that I’ve been in close contact with, which during the past week has been very few.”
“We’re going to get through this." — Pastor Paul Lundrigan
In the meantime, Lundrigan says he will offer services via livestream to parishioners at Holy Trinity, St. Agnes and St. Michael’s parishes.
Lundrigan offered words of encouragement for everyone feeling fearful during these trying times.
“We’re going to get through this. To quote the great philosopher Bette Midler, ‘God is watching us from a distance.’ And we have to do the same,” he said.
“We’re going to have difficulties with it, one way or the other. That’s the only message I can give. I’m not one of these people that will say, oh don’t worry about this … that’s not my belief in God. My belief is something a little more realistic: that God allows us to make our own choices. If we trust in God, God will give us wisdom to not only make good choices, but to commit to them and stay with them no matter how difficult those choices are, no matter how difficult the circumstances become. Good things happen and bad things happen in the world. What God is there for is to help us to cope with and to deal with all of them.”