Emily Allen Published

W.Va. Governor Reports Eighth Active Church Outbreak

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Active COVID-19 outbreaks in churches have infected at least 85 people in the last couple of weeks, according to an update from the governor Wednesday afternoon.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources is now reporting an eighth church outbreak in Mason County. The DHHR’s list of outbreaks in places of worship on Monday included Kanawha, Logan, Boone, Raleigh, Wood, Taylor and Grant counties.

The Mason County outbreak includes three local residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus and two Putnam County residents, according to the local health department.

Staff say all members of the church have entered a two week quarantine, and in-person services are on hold. The health department refused to identify the church and its location, but said congregants did comply with the governor’s executive order for face masks and social distancing. 

An executive order signed July 6 from Gov. Jim Justice includes religious entities among other indoor places subject to his mask mandate, according to the governor’s communications office. All West Virginians older than eight years old who don’t risk suffocation must wear a face covering indoors where social distancing is not possible. 

Yet, Justice said during a virtual press briefing Wednesday that he and local health departments don’t have the authority to enforce this order in churches, unlike restaurants and stores that rely on health permits from the county. 

“I don’t have any powers … to be able to fine people or whatever from my standpoint, I don’t have any powers whatsoever to do such a thing,” Justice said. 

Public health leaders urge West Virginians to wear face coverings to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, even while indoors and standing at least six feet apart from others. 

“Even if you are physically distancing, these two things work well together,” Dr. Clay Marsh, an appointed public health expert in West Virginia, said of face masks and social distancing Wednesday.  

Marsh showed viewers of the governor’s virtual press briefing on Wednesday a video from WVU, where he works, that demonstrates how face masks mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

State health leaders additionally have asked places of worship to hold online services wherever possible. For those who’ve chosen to hold in-person services, state health officer Dr. Ayne Amjad said Monday the DHHR is still offering support and guidance.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.