Pastor who prayed against mask mandate lands in ICU for COVID-19, still believes in personal choice

An Idaho pastor has been in intensive care for COVID-19 after previously speaking out against government enforcement of mandatory mask wearing.

“I am a no-masker personally,” pastor Paul Van Noy said during his service at Candlelight Christian Fellowship on July 22. “I don’t want to be told I have to wear a mask.”

Van Noy encouraged his congregation to pray that the city council would not pass a mask mandate.

Coronavirus cases rapidly increased in Idaho in July. On July 15, the state reported 691 new cases statewide. Northern Idaho’s Panhandle Health District voted in favor of a mask mandate in Kootenai County, where Candlelight Christian Fellowship is located, on July 24. The mandate required a face covering in public places where physical distancing of 6 feet could not be maintained.

RELATED: Global COVID-19 cases top 30 million, according to Johns Hopkins

“We at Candlelight are exercising our freedom, and the right to allow you as members, to come into the facilities without the obligation to observe the Panhandle Health District ‘order.’ We are not suggesting you disobey your local, city, county, state, or federal laws. As your pastor I believe that would be sinful and wrong. However, in this case, we can peacefully and biblically resist, without violation of the Godly standards we submit ourselves to,“ Van Noy wrote on Facebook on July 24, after the mandate was announced. “Therefore, if you chose to wear a mask, physically distance, etc. we support your freedom to do so. If you choose to refrain from wearing a mask, etc. we likewise support your decision.”

Pastor Paul Van Noy with his wife Brenda

Van Noy said he never discouraged the members of his church from any choices of their own. “We believe people are intelligent and that they have the opportunity to make good rational choices for themselves, and so I did not feel it was my responsibility or prerogative to tell other members how they should approach this,” Vay Noy said.

A little over a month later, he and his wife contracted COVID-19. While his wife developed a mild case of the virus, Van Noy landed in Kootenai Medical’s intensive care unit.

“At one point they thought I was in a condition where I could have actually passed away,” Van Noy told FOX TV Stations in an exclusive interview.

RELATED: COVID-19 infection rates soar in college towns as students return

Vay Noy has been in the hospital for over two weeks, and his lungs are still recovering. He said his condition is improving, but he still needs to build up his oxygen supply.

“It’s been quite a journey,” Van Noy said. “This COVID-19 has affected different people in different ways.”

According to COVID-19 data from John Hopkin’s University, the coronavirus has reached over 6.8 million confirmed cases and nearly 200,000 deaths in the United States.

But despite contracting severe COVID-19 and ending up in the hospital’s ICU, Van Noy said his perspective on the mandating of masks has not changed.

“There are so many components, and we just don’t feel it’s biblical or Godly to try and control people. We want God to be able to speak into people’s lives to give them wisdom and allow them to make good intelligent decisions and choices of their own,” Van Noy said. “We certainly don’t need the government to tell us how to think, and so we want people to have freedom and exercise freedoms absolutely.”

While Van Noy chose not to disclose where he suspects he contracted COVID-19, he said he believes it did not happen in his church building.

Van Noy maintains that he has never denied that the public is dealing with a real virus, and he wants to continue to keep his church and community safe. “I’ve worn masks many times, when I go into a public place when I’ve been asked to wear a mask. I’ve not been rebellious,” Van Noy added.

Van Noy asked the staff to shut down programs at the church for a 13-day window beginning Aug. 31 to prevent any spread of COVID-19 within their staff or building. They resumed service on Sept. 13.

“If people are sick, I want to encourage them to stay home.” Van Noy said. “If they have slight or even moderate sense of being sick they should wear a mask to protect others, because that’s who we are, we’re people who care about other people.”

But experts say that asymptomatic individuals, or those without symptoms, are contributing to the rapid spread of COVID-19. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science referred to COVID-19 infections by asymptomatic and presymptomatic individuals as “silent transmission.” The study found that even if symptomatic cases are isolated — such as a person being quarantined until they have recovered or tested negative for the virus — “a vast outbreak may nonetheless unfold.”

RELATED: ‘Silent transmission’: COVID-19 largely spread by asymptomatic, presymptomatic carriers, study says

As of Sept. 18, Kootenai County has the third-highest number of cases in the state of Idaho, with 2,456 total cases and 33 deaths.

“We are here to serve, and our church is here to serve others and is entirely focused on keeping them safe, but giving them the freedom to make their own choices,” Van Noy said.

Van Noy firmly believes mask mandating should be an individual’s decision and freedom. “I think that’s a decision that every individual has to make on their selves,” Van Noy said. “We could put a mask on every person on the entire planet, we’re still going to have people get sick.”

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical experts and scientists continue to race to better understand the novel coronavirus.

Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has for months advised that wearing a mask is pivotal to guard against the spread and transmission of COVID-19.

“These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have," Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC said last week. "And I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings. I’ve said that if we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks we'd bring this pandemic under control."

CDC guidance has maintained that inhalation of respiratory droplets or small particles when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks is thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Particularly between people who are in close contact with one another — about 6 feet.

Last week, Redfield also said that masks are currently the best line of defense against COVID-19 and that they might be more effective than a potential coronavirus vaccine.

RELATED: CDC director says face masks ‘more guaranteed’ to protect against COVID-19 than vaccine

“These actually, we have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense," he said. "I might even go so far as to say this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine, because the immunogenicity might be 70%, and if I don't get an immune response the vaccine’s not going to protect me. This face mask will."

President Donald Trump disagreed with his CDC director and said, “I hope the vaccine is going to be a lot more beneficial than the mask.” He also said, “the mask perhaps helps.”