Five days after the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department announced it had tracked at least 24 cases of COVID-19 to the North Charleston Apostolic Church, Republican Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia announced on Monday that 75 new cases of the virus have been tracked to churches in seven counties.
“We’ve absolutely got to stay on top of this with all in us,” Justice said during a press briefing. “Please know that the church setting is the ideal setting to spread this virus.”
Cases of COVID-19 related to churches have been identified in Grant, Logan, Wood, Boone, Kanawha, Raleigh, and Taylor counties.
Dr. Sherri Young, health officer and executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, urged churchgoers to practice caution after leaders at North Charleston Apostolic voluntarily agreed to close for three weeks to deep clean their building as congregants were asked to self-isolate.
“We don’t want to discourage people from going to church,” Young said. “In the middle of a pandemic, people may need spirituality more than ever. But COVID-19 is still out there and we have to be very careful. Please consider attending services electronically, especially if you’re at high risk for complications from COVID-19. If you are attending an in-person service, wear your mask, keep six feet between you and other congregants and wash your hands frequently.”
Officials at North Charleston Apostolic Church did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Christian Post Tuesday but confirmed on their website that their services had been canceled.
Last month, at least 51 members of Graystone Baptist Church in Lewisburg tested positive for the coronavirus, WCHS reported. Officials at that church also told CP Tuesday that they were not doing media interviews at this time but video from the church’s Facebook page showed the pastor preaching outdoors to his congregation on Sunday.
Congregants at the church, according to a report from The New York Times, began to get sick 10 days after Sunday services resumed in late May, with masks being optional. Charles Hiser, 82, was the first of three churchgoers to die after contracting the virus.
Libby Morgan, his daughter, told the publication that her father lived alone and had been cooped up during the state’s lockdown period. Even though she spoke with him regularly on the phone and brought him groceries, he missed attending his church where he had been a member for about 30 years. As soon as the church resumed regular services, she said he went back without a mask. Two weeks later, he tested positive for the virus.
“I felt like, gosh, I was thinking he’d be safe there,” Morgan said. “You know, you’re in church. Just like a child that goes to school is supposed to feel safe.”
Gov. Justice urged West Virginians in church settings Monday to follow the state’s safety guidelines, including using every other pew, maintaining social distancing, and wearing face coverings.
“I know these things are really difficult to do,” Justice said. “But for right now, they have to be done because if we don’t, all we’re going to do is lose more people.
“We could very well lose a lot of our grandmothers and grandfathers – people who have so much wisdom to still continue to pass on – we absolutely don’t need to be losing these great West Virginians.”