BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – Officials with the Mount Rogers Health District said they’re seeing outbreaks of COVID-19 in congregations in their eight-county area of Southwest Virginia.
In a time when people are relying on faith more than ever, churches are being asked to use more precautions to stop the spread of the virus.
“There’s almost some pressure sometimes that you have to be in the building, that you have to show up,” said Anderson Church of God’s pastor Matthew Hollman.
One of those outbreaks involved more than 40 cases according to the district. Mount Rogers Health District warns of COVID-19 outbreaks at churches
“We do encourage people to gather, this is certainly a time when faith needs to remain strong and we do want to encourage people to get all the support that they can from their church community or their faith-based community,” said Mount Rogers Health District’s Medical Director Dr. Karen Shelton. “But as they continue gathering, we ask that they just use all the best things that they can for the strategies, the only ones we know to prevent this.”
Pastors like Holman and Scott Emerine, the associate pastor of Covenant Fellowship Church in Bristol, say COVID-19 has had an impact on their churches and congregations.
“We changed up the configuration of our congregation seating dramatically in order to also adhere to policies and procedures,” Emerine said. “We have medically trained staff which includes doctors and nurses that they’re interviewing people before they come into church asking how they’re feeling if they’re having any symptoms.”
Holman says his church had one instance where they needed to shut down, but they have dwindled their services down to just one.
“We’ve canceled our midweek service each week just so that we have plenty of time to go in to clean,” said Holman.
With permission, the health department works with churches when cases pop up.
“If we have several members of that congregation, we might ask that they opt for online services for one to two weeks depending on how many people of the church may have been affected,” Shelton said.
Dr. Shelton says another issue her district has is being on the state line.
“We may have people who live in Tennessee that go to church in Virginia so that does leave a little bit of difficulty for us when we’re trying to make sure that people have the best information,” she said.
The Virginia Department of Health offers guidance on its website for church safety during the pandemic.
Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.