It’s approaching six months since the coronavirus became a national and statewide concern. Over that time, some patterns have emerged in West Virginia.
Nursing homes remain potential hot spots for COVID-19 outbreaks, as a recent situation in Mercer County has shown. Community spread remains the main issue. The virus gets around either through travel or irresponsibility in public places — sometimes both. Closing down bars in Monongalia County seems to be reducing cases there.
Churches remain a steady transmission site. Many early cases were traced to church gatherings before the public was adequately informed of the danger the virus posed. As churches have reopened, public health officials continue to trace outbreaks to church gatherings.
Without question, worship is important to a lot of West Virginians. Churches make up many of the landmarks and historic buildings in several West Virginia towns. Even in areas of the state that are less populated, it’s sometimes easier to throw a rock and hit a church than a tree.
Judging by the numbers West Virginia is seeing, by and large, churches are being responsible as they’ve welcomed their congregations back — practicing social distancing, wearing masks and offering alternatives, such as streaming their services online. But there are still outbreaks being traced back to churches across the state. As public health officials pointed out last week and Gov. Jim Justice reiterated during a briefing Monday, the state continues to track 137 COVID-19 cases linked to church services in eight counties.
Churches need to follow public health guidelines. If congregants feel those guidelines are an impingement on their beliefs or rights, that’s fine, but they need to stay home.
This is about protecting people and curbing the spread of the virus in the midst of a serious pandemic. People of faith should know better than anyone that considering the welfare of others is a cornerstone of what they profess to believe.
They also should know that a church isn’t signified by a building or a service, but by the actions of its congregation. Churches have been doing wonderful things in West Virginia throughout the pandemic, with many checking up on their elderly members to make sure they’re healthy, and to let them know they’re not forgotten. Some have gotten creative with their services, and some are keeping extensive records to make sure, if there is an outbreak, it can be properly traced and those who might be impacted will know they need to get tested.
Everyone is making sacrifices right now, and the church communities throughout West Virginia are no different. Wear a mask, keep your distance and wash your hands. Love your neighbor.