A pastor who told his congregation that they are not required to wear face masks during church services has contracted COVID-19.
Paul Van Noy, the senior pastor at Candlelight Christian Fellowship in Idaho, has been hospitalized after testing positive.
He was admitted into the ICU after he and his wife, Brenda, both came down with the novel virus, according to an update on the church’s website.
"Having been in the ICU now for 11 days…and counting, I am really starting to turn the corner—for the better," the pastor said in the statement to his 1,200-member congregation.
"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.
During his battle with the virus, he said he was praying for the staff and members of the church.
“I am watching in prayer that there are no new cases and we can all be back together—worshipping together as called—very soon," he said, adding, "Please pray for health and strength for all. We are called to such a time as this—to represent the Lord!"
"Even then, the journey back maybe weeks in all," he said. "I will be continuing recovery and will be stronger yet—we all will!"
Face masks have been mandated in Kootenai County as more than 36,000 people have tested positive in Idaho. However, Van Noy was firm on his stance on Facebook in July stating that he did not require them at his church.
"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. "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."
The Daily Mail reports he compared the virus to the flu.
PEOPLE notes that Van Noy recently shut down programs at the church for 13 days to prevent further spread of the virus after five staff members at the church contracted the virus.
However, despite his diagnosis, his stance on mask-wearing has not changed.
According to body ministry coordinator Eric Reade, masks at church will remain optional.
“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.”
Brenda said her experience with COVID left her “humbled.” On September 4 she wrote: “I haven’t taken this COVID seriously enough. I’m humbled. I have Covid and some of my friends have COVID now but more seriously my husband is in critical care in ICU with COVID and it is serious.”
She begged people to take it seriously calling the virus “evil.”