COEUR d'ALENE, Idaho - A Coeur d'Alene pastor who chose not to enforce Kootenai County's mask mandate among his congregation continues to recover after he and other church staff members contracted the virus. 

Paul Van Noy is the senior pastor at Candlelight Christian Fellowship. Back in July, after the Panhandle Health District voted in favor voted in favor of requiring masks in public places in the county, Paul took to Facebook to address his church's response. 

"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,'" the post read in part. 

Members of the church were not required to wear masks. However, Paul noted that the church would support members' freedom to choose whether or not to wear facial coverings and follow social distancing guidelines. 

In the weeks that followed, six church staff members, including Paul and his wife, Brenda, contracted the virus. Paul, has been recovering in Kootenai Medical Center's Intensive Care Unit.

On Monday, Sept. 14, the church shared the following message from the pastor, who said he was beginning to improve.

“Having been in the ICU now for 11 days…and counting, I am really starting to turn the corner—for the better. 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… I pray daily for all the staff and members of Candlelight—and the other churches. I am watching in prayer that there are no new cases and we can all be back together—worshipping together as called—very soon. Please pray for health and strength for all. We are called to such a time as this—to represent the Lord! Love you all, Pastor Paul”

Brenda, who did not have to be hospitalized after her diagnosis, shared her own message on Facebook, urging people to take the virus seriously. 

"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. Please take this serious. Pray for healing. Love each other. Pray for those who have lost loved ones because of this EVIL virus," the post read.

Eric Reade, body ministry coordinator the church, said that the small outbreak within the church began after the virus was contracted elsewhere, then spread among the five staff members. When asked whether the church has decided to change its policy on allowing members to remain without masks if they choose, Reade said that no changes have been made.

However, he noted that an extensive cleaning was done after the positive cases were identified and the church temporarily closed its doors. Daily cleaning procedures remain in place.

"I truly believe that we are doing the right thing. It's a fine balance of allowing people to have an opportunity to worship and express their First Amendment right and so we want to make sure at the church, we're doing everything in our power to safely do that," Reade said.