Church Officials Working to Keep Members Safe
WHEELING — Outbreaks at several churches across West Virginia have contributed to some of the rising COVID-19 numbers in the state, including in Marshall and Ohio counties.
While there hasn’t been an issue at Ash Avenue Church of God in Moundsville, they are still prepared, Pastor C.J. Plogger said. If a member tests positive, people will be notified via automated phone call and online.
“We’ve said if we had three cases we would go back to streaming online,” Plogger said.
In-person services halted the last two Sundays in March and resumed May 24. Every other row was sectioned off to promote social distancing, and gloves and masks are provided, Plogger said. Boxes have been set up to receive offerings so no ushers are passing collection plates, and communion is served using individually wrapped wafers and cups.
“We’ve not had any greeters yet because we don’t want multiple contacts,” Plogger said.
Plogger believes community is one of the most important aspects of the Christian faith.
“We all have challenges; we all have lessons to learn, so we can come together and lift each other up,” he said.
While worshipping online is not the same, Plogger said some people – including members of his family – have additional risk factors to consider that are still keeping them from in-person worship.
“We want to support them,” he said of people who cannot attend or don’t feel comfortable doing so. “I’m doing a lot of calls, but I have not done a lot of home visits.”
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Episcopal Church of West Virginia in late May both announced strict measures to allow for in-person services to resume. No issues have been reported at churches for those two denominations in the state.
But there have been problems at other churches in the Northern Panhandle.
At least 15 people attending First Baptist Church in Wheeling have been infected with the coronavirus, Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department officials said.
The health department began investigating June 16 and confirmed members from Ohio and Marshall counties who attend the church had tested positive. The cases date as far back to June 10. An additional six people in contact with some of those church members have also become infected, health officials said.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources also announced on June 14 that a church in Marshall County was the site of multiple COVID-19 cases. Neither state nor Marshall County health officials have ever identified the church where at least five people were infected, or when they tested positive. County health officials said all of those members have since been cleared from isolation, and that the church was cleaned after the outbreak.
Outbreaks have also occurred in churches in Boone, Hampshire, Jefferson and Greenbrier counties also were identified over the weekend as having multiple cases.