West Virginia health officials are reporting the state’s fifth known COVID-19 outbreak linked to a church – this time, in Greenbrier County.
A Facebook post on Saturday from the local health department confirmed there were at least 17 people who had tested positive for the coronavirus. The cases are linked to the Graystone Baptist Church in Ronceverte, located between a nursing home and an elementary school.
Local and state health officials, with help from the West Virginia National Guard, are offering free testing to all residents of Greenbrier County on Sunday, June 14, and Monday, June 15, at Dorie Miller Park in Lewisburg. Testing will be available both days until 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Those wishing to be tested do not need to be showing symptoms of the coronavirus. Insurance is not required to receive a test.
Earlier this week, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources confirmed four outbreaks at places of worship in Boone, Hampshire, Jefferson and Marshall counties, infecting 23 people in total.
Local health departments are still actively investigating the outbreaks in Boone and Marshall counties, according to DHHR spokesperson Allison Adler. She added that “several churches did not have adequate safety measures in place" upon reopening.
Graystone Baptist Church and the local health department did not immediately return West Virginia Public Broadcasting's request for comment.
DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch shared his concerns on Thursday for an increased potential for COVID-19 spread in the southern counties now that the Hatfield McCoy trail systems have reopened to out-of-state riders. The DHHR is not reporting any other known outbreaks at this time.
In Greenbrier County, State Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, is on a local COVID-19 task force. He said the Graystone Baptist Church incident will be the group’s first agenda item on Monday.
“I would be remiss if I did not encourage people to wear masks and follow social distancing,” said Baldwin, a minister for the Ronceverte Presbyterian Church. Baldwin said his church will continue holding virtual services.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.