St. Agnes Church warns of possible COVID exposure

St. Agnes Catholic Church parishioners attend an evening Mass on March 17, the last day the church was open for Mass until this coming weekend due to the state’s social distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — This village’s Catholic church is warning residents of a possible COVID-19 exposure.

A person who attended three Masses at St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid last week has tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Essex County Health Department. Those who attended the Masses 8:30 a.m. in person last Thursday and Friday, Nov. 5 and 6, and at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, may have been exposed.

Father John Yonkovig, pastor of St. Agnes, said the parishioner is hospitalized but doing well.

“An initial investigation found that an individual who was present at the church during the dates/times listed above tested positive for COVID-19,” Essex County Public Health Director Linda Beers said in a statement Thursday. “We have not been able to link this person’s case to any known exposure, and we have seen an uptick in cases, especially in the Lake Placid/Saranac Lake region. With this information at hand, we feel it’s in the best interest of public health and safety to offer a testing event to anyone who attended the church services in question.”

That testing event is this Friday, Nov. 13, from 9 a.m. to noon at the North Elba Show Grounds on Cascade Road. Those who want to get tested should register ahead of time by calling the Adirondack Health COVID Clinic at 518-897-2462. This testing event is specifically for those who may have been exposed at St. Agnes.

“(Essex County Health Department) is working with Adirondack Health, St. Agnes Church, the Village of Lake Placid, the Lake Placid Police Department and the Essex County Department of Emergency Services to stand up this testing event in an effort to protect our more vulnerable populations, trace and isolate any further potential infections, and slow any further spread of the virus,” Beers said.

Though only one person who attended these services has tested positive so far, the county Health Department is asking that anyone who attended these services get tested. St. Agnes Church does have a list of parishioners who attended those Masses, for contact tracing purposes, according to Senior Public Health Educator Andrea Whitmarsh, but the department wanted to err on the side of caution and announce the possible exposure in case not everyone signed in when attending the services.

In-person religious services have been capped at 33% capacity under state Department of Health guidelines. St. Agnes, like many other local churches, has blocked off every other pew, requires distancing between people of different households, requires mask-wearing during services and sanitizes people’s hands on their way into church.

In a social media post, the church said that it was a parishioner who tested positive, and that the person weren’t experiencing any symptoms when he attended Mass at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday but developed symptoms on Monday. St. Agnes said the parishioner had been sitting near the baptismal font, which is at the back of the church, during the Saturday Mass.

“Let us keep in prayer all who are suffering from this pandemic and for those who are so compassionately caring for the sick,” the church’s post reads. “Together we will make it through this!”