By Guy Page
An Irasburg church and the Vermont Department of Health disagree whether a worshipper attended church Sunday Nov. 22 and tested positive.
Friday, the Vermont Health Department issued a press release claiming an attendee had tested positive and urged anyone who had contact with the person to get tested and quarantine. The press release and subsequent media coverage prompted Pastor George Lawson of the New Hope Bible Church to investigate. He determined that not only was the person not present, but also had been tested three times — each time with negative results.
At a press conference Tuesday, Health Commissioner Mark Levine stood by Friday’s statement. “We feel very comfortable because we have had multiple people interacting with the church and the community, that we are well aware that we had a positive test, and what risks do and do not exist,” Levine said.
When a reporter pointed out the church says the person in question not only wasn’t there that that Sunday, but was tested three times with negative results, Levine replied: “Both of those are contrary to my understanding in its entirety.” Church members should get tested and/or quarantine if they attended on the dates listed, he said.
The following explanation by Pastor Lawson is excerpted from a Facebook video he posted Nov. 28. It has been lightly edited for brevity and continuity.
Wednesday I talked to a person who said they were from the health agency. They told me there was a person in my congregation that tested positive, and if they could have a list of those they might have come in contact with. I told them we don’t have a list. People come and go each week.
I had not had contact with that person on that day. … I encouraged him to talk to that person. Only they could know who they’ve been in contact with.
I then called the person they alleged to have tested positive. I was told they had tested three times, and they had tested negative. I was irritated at first … but then I didn’t put much mind to it, until I got a call on Thursday. This person said I had a person who tested positive. I explained I talked to the person and they said all three tests were negative.
The health department person then checked the computer and said the positive test was confirmed. To which, Lawson responded:
I said, there’s a discrepancy in the test results and I encouraged them to find out what the truth was.
This person hasn’t been contacted at all. They’ve never been contacted at all through this thing. So I never expected them to just highhandedly dispatch it and put it in the news the way they did. I’m very concerned about this process. The person they should be in contact with is the person who was tested. That just makes sense. That would be the right way to do it.
This person they told me was positive was not contacted at all. When they come to condemn a church, or any other organization, or person, they should have their facts straight. This person was not even in our church on the 22nd.
This could have been avoided. They could have contacted this person first and asked, where have you been, what have you done. They would have had their information correct. That would have been the only way to get their facts straight and gain ground in fighting this.
I have no hard feelings anymore – I did at first, but God’s been working on my heart – at the health [department], or even the news, which was so quick to run someone, or an organization down. I can say this because Christ is the one who gives me strength.