A church in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, will be closed for 14 days after a reported 28 people connected with the church tested positive for COVID-19. The Greenbrier church outbreak is the fifth COVID-19 outbreak at a church in West Virginia, and Governor Jim Justice is emphasizing the importance of carefully following safety precautions.
“I want to strongly encourage all West Virginians, especially when in church settings, to follow the guidelines and use every other pew, maintain social distancing, and please wear masks,” said the governor in a statement published Saturday. “As I have said many times, we will have stormy seas before we get a vaccine, so it is imperative that we strictly follow the guidelines or the seas will only get rougher.”
About the Greenbrier Church Outbreak
The Greenbrier County church outbreak “just absolutely salutes the magnitude of the caution that we need to take,” said Gov. Justice in a press briefing Monday morning. Justice said he is “concerned all the time” about the virus and that “there’s no real rest” from it.
When he heard about the outbreak at the Greenbrier church (17 cases were reported initially), the governor ordered the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), the West Virginia National Guard, and the Greenbrier County Health Department to respond to the incident. At first, said Justice, the National Guard said they would not be able to make it to the church until Monday, but under his direction, they were able to arrive Sunday to decontaminate the building.
The DHHR said it has received “good cooperation” from the church, which will be closed for two weeks. The governor also ordered free testing in Greenbrier County on Sunday and Monday, encouraging “anyone that has any level of concern” to get tested.
During his press briefing, the governor suggested that the Greenbrier church did not adequately follow safety precautions. He said, “I don’t want to dwell on this, but we’re also being told that maybe we didn’t use the level of caution there. Maybe we didn’t social distance properly or properly wear masks or whatever it may be.”
In a post on its Facebook page, the church in question stated that it followed state and local guidance: “Our hearts are heavy during this time. The outbreak of Covid-19 has caused many rumors and misunderstandings to be said. We adhered to the state and local governments concerning the reconvening of our church.”
The church went on to explain what its requirements were:
We greatly encouraged anyone who was feeling ill to remain home. Attending church was on a voluntary basis. We greatly encouraged those to wear masks and gloves if they felt more comfortable. Our church ushers were helping with proper seating arrangements as given to us by Governor Jim Justice. Our services did not include any time of fellowship. We had gloves and masks available for everyone to use if they so desired. We exemplified social distancing within the church walls. We made aware and made use of hand sanitizing stations and Antibacterial sprays. We do not understand the source of the outbreak. To the best of our ability we followed the guidelines that were given to us.
The church concluded, “We want everyone to understand our church respects, obeys, and prays for our government. We love our brothers and sisters and would in no way put anyone in harm intentionally. We want to thank our governor, Jim Justice, and the Department of Health for their help in all this with the decontamination of our facility.”
As of June 11, 23 people connected with churches in Boone, Hampshire, Marshall, and Jefferson counties in West Virginia had contracted COVID-19. Seven cases were tied to a church in Boone County that reportedly did not follow social distancing and safety guidelines.
Julie Miller of the Boone County Health Department said, “I just wish people would wear a mask. It’s not a normal, everyday life anymore…We’ve got to be careful where we’re going.” She also said that churches should be extremely cautious about singing: “You can sing, but you can’t take your mask off to sing. When you sing, you spread things out. Whatever germs you have, even a cold will go further.”