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COVID-19: Do not let down your guard just yet

Gov. Jim Justice and Dr. Clay Marsh have told West Virginians over and over the time for caution regarding the spread of COVID-19 has NOT passed. Monday the pair announced the state Department of Health and Human Resources has identified at least five churches that appear to be the source of outbreaks.

Among them is Graystone Baptist Church in Greenbrier County, which can be traced as the source of at least 28 positive cases. The DHHR is now working with the Greenbrier County Health Department to trace how far the virus may have spread.

Justice has suggested the spread at Graystone and other churches is likely because of a lack of social distancing, and a lack of the use of face masks and other protective measures. The outbreaks may also be due to a choice by those at the church not to heed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that advise against group singing or group speaking (prayers) that force the virus into the shared space used by a congregation.

“We’re also being told that maybe we didn’t use the level of caution there,” Justice said.

Meanwhile, many other churches — including most here in the Mid-Ohio Valley — are continuing to employ alternative means of conducting their church services and keeping their congregation together in spirit AND safe in body. Services are being streamed on social media, held outdoors in parking lots with parishioners encouraged to stay in their cars, or with ticketed and socially distanced seating arrangements.

Gathering in enclosed spaces for traditional church services that include singing (and maybe even greetings of hugs and handshakes) is simply still not safe. During Monday’s announcement, Marsh reminded Mountain State residents of case in Washington state during which 62 choir members showed up for practice, and 56 ended up testing positive for coronavirus.

That doesn’t have to happen here; not if church leaders do the right thing for their congregations.

“(Losing people) is a big price to pay,” Justice said. “West Virginians, please listen to me … we can enjoy all the things in life even if it’s a little inconvenient.”

That includes church services, folks. Do not let down your guard, just yet.

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