Justice says outbreaks have made him more wary of large gatherings

Gov. Jim Justice says a series of West Virginia coronavirus outbreaks — including several in churches — is making him view large gatherings with increasing concern.

“If you don’t listen and wear your mask, you’re going to have loved ones die,” Justice said.

“Without any question today, I and a lot of us are really much more hesitant about bigger gatherings of people and maybe even much more of a proponent to restrict bigger gatherings of people than we were a week ago or ten days ago.”

Justice concluded today’s press briefing with a stern warning to West Virginians to take precautions.

“West Virginians, I would say to you as the straightest talk: What is it really going to take for all of us to awaken to a situation that we have got to protect ourselves at all times. I’ve said it a million times. This virus and disease is still with us. It can whiplash right around and kill us,” he said.

West Virginia is moving toward Week 9 of its reopening plan, and Justice has touted encouraging numbers overall.

Through today, the state had 2,358 cases of coronavirus and 88 deaths.

The most recent daily percentage of positive cases to overall testing was just 1.68 percent.

West Virginia has 1,639 cases considered recovered and 631 considered active.

Twenty-four covid patients are hospitalized in West Virginia.

But concern has raised across the nation as nine states hit record highs for covid-19 cases.

“This is not some smoke and mirrors. This is reality,” Justice said.

His remarks came as several churches in West Virginia have been associated with outbreaks. On Tuesday, Justice mentioned outbreaks among parishioners in Greenbrier, Ohio and Boone counties.

In Greenbrier County, he said, 32 congregants at Graystone Baptist Church have tested positive for coronavirus. Justice later said one member of the church has been hospitalized.

“We’ve got to do this. We have to do this. Or we’re going to end up with people dead,” Justice said. “In my hometown of Lewisburg, if we don’t lose somebody there, it will be another miracle.”

MORE: Health official: Greenbrier County COVID-19 case may be sign of community spread

The pastor there, Youel Altizer, told Beckley’s Register-Herald newspaper that facemasks had been optional during services, and that some worshippers continued shaking hands.

“We urged people to wear masks, but it was not mandatory,” Altizer told the newspaper. “We tried to do our best to follow the health department guidelines, but we made a few mistakes and as far as the masks go, we slacked up on that. We could have done better.”

The governor said today, “The reality is really simple: When we don’t adhere to the guidelines as far as masks or social distancing or every other pew, we’re asking for it.”

WTOV-TV was reporting that First Baptist Church in Wheeling has an outbreak of covid-19 with 4 positive cases and many other tests pending.

At least eight people at Blooming Rose Church of Christ in Boone County tested positive for coronavirus, WSAZ-TV reported.

“We have got to protect ourselves there (at church). That’s all there is to it,” Justice said.

“We have got to stay in family units, and we’ve got to stay in social distancing that absolutely protects us. If we’re going to church, we have got to do this.”

Justice also described members of a Preston County family who have now tested positive for coronavirus after a trip to Myrtle Beach.

“Just an innocent vacation, went to Myrtle Beach,” he said. “They come back and there’s seven of them now that have been tested positive.”

The governor said daily news reports should underscore the importance of being cautious.

“Wear your mask. Do what you’ve got to do. Social distance. Wash your hands,” Justice said. “Watch when you travel out of state. Be careful. Be really careful. Watch yourself.”

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