The governor of West Virginia — a Republican — is warning Christians after 75 new cases of the coronavirus have been tracked back to churches in seven counties.
“We’ve absolutely got to stay on top of this with all in us,” Gov. Jim Justice (R) said during a press briefing Monday. “Please know that the church setting is the ideal setting to spread this virus.”
COVID-19 cases have been linked to congregations in the counties of Grant, Logan, Wood, Boone, Kanawha, Raleigh, and Taylor.
The governor’s announcement came five days after the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department announced it had tracked roughly 24 coronavirus diagnoses to the North Charleston Apostolic Church.
Dr. Sherri Young, health officer and executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, urged caution for Christians gathering for church services. Leaders at the North Charleston Apostolic Church agreed to close their facility for three weeks to thoroughly clean the space. Those who attended services at the church have been asked to isolate themselves.
“We don’t want to discourage people from going to church,” said Young. “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.”
She went on to encourage people eager to return to church to do so “electronically, especially if you’re at high risk for complications from COVID-19.”
“If you are attending an in-person service,” the doctor continued, “wear your mask, keep six feet between you and other congregants, and wash your hands frequently.”
Justice’s cautionary message comes a couple weeks after The New York Times ran an article calling churches a “major source” of COVID-19 cases across the country.
“The virus has infiltrated Sunday sermons, meetings of ministers and Christian youth camps in Colorado and Missouri,” reads the Times piece. “It has struck churches that reopened cautiously with face masks and social distancing in the pews, as well as some that defied lockdowns and refused to heed new limits on numbers of worshipers.”
While there have been some legitimate instances of churches being linked to COVID-19 cases, the Times article was criticized as “inaccurate” and the result of the media’s “relentless obsession” with churches.