WASHINGTON — Less than a month after President Trump urged churches to reopen, West Virginia has reported a significant number of coronavirus outbreaks linked to houses of worship. According to the state’s public health office, a total of five churches have seen outbreaks.
Those churches are scattered across the rugged, mountainous state. The affected churches are in Jefferson County on the border with Maryland; Boone County, in the state’s southwestern coalfields, not far from the Kentucky border; Hampshire County, also near the Maryland border; and Marshall County, in a narrow swath of the state squeezed between Ohio and Pennsylvania known as the Northern Panhandle.
The state’s Department of Health and Human Resources announced the five-church outbreak in a Saturday press release about a house of worship in Greenbrier County, where it said “at least 17 cases have been identified.” It did not name the Greenbrier church, or the churches in the other four counties, to “protect the possibility of identifying individuals.”
On Monday, health officials said that there had been eight church-related cases in Hampshire County, seven in Boone County and five each in Jefferson and Marshall counties. Speaking at a press conference on Monday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice revealed that the outbreak in Greenbrier County was at Graystone Baptist Church in Lewisburg. And he said that the number of cases there had risen to 28.
State health officials told Yahoo News that the infected churchgoers had themselves infected an additional 26 people, so that the total number of people who had contracted the coronavirus either directly or indirectly because of the worship services was now 79. “DHHR is monitoring any increase in COVID-19 cases with coordination from the local health department,” said Allison Adler, director of communications for the Department of Health and Human Resources. She said that the West Virginia National Guard was assisting in the response, including by helping clean the five churches.
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