While still maintaining one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice warned Monday that the state has experienced an uptick in the number of positive cases and there were active church-related outbreaks of the virus across 13 counties.
"We all know that church is a place that absolutely this killer can really thrive. We're singing, we love to see all those that we love and that are in our church family with us," Justice said during a press conference with state health officials.
"It's an absolute place where a lot of our elderly go and we've got to wear a mask, stay a pew apart, and from the standpoint of our elderly, you can get your services online or something like that," he urged the faithful.
Justice said the number of active COVID-19 cases across the state is now 5,095, up from 4,915 last Friday, among the state's over 1.79 million residents.
“Our numbers continue to be the envy of the nation, but at the same time, we want them to be even better in West Virginia,” Justice said. “Our active cases have gone above 5,000. A big part of that is the simple fact that we continue to test more and more and that will pay great dividends as we go forward.”
He said active church-related outbreaks are being monitored in: Berkeley, Doddridge, Harrison, Logan, Mason, Mercer, Monroe, Nicholas, Putnam, Upshur, Wayne, Wetzel, and Wood counties.
Other recent church-related outbreaks in Fayette and Tucker counties are no longer considered active at this time.
West Virginia’s statewide rate of COVID-19 transmission increased to 1.03 on Monday morning, the ninth-best rate among states nationwide.
“We want to be significantly under 1.00, but we’re still ninth-best in the country,” Gov. Justice said. “Why is that? All you’ve got to do is turn the TV on and look. This disease is running rampant across our country.
“While we’re ninth in the country, and that’s good, we should all realize that this dreaded killer is now ramped up across the United States and that includes West Virginia,” he continued. “So we want to stay on our toes. West Virginians, please wear your mask and please listen to all the guidelines.”
Earlier this summer, 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 church voluntarily agreed to close for three weeks when officials tracked 24 cases of COVID-19 to the congregation.
“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 6 feet between you and other congregants, and wash your hands frequently.”