WAYNE — The Wayne Church of God has canceled all services after multiple members of the congregation tested positive for COVID-19, the church announced Tuesday.
“Even though we have taken some precautions, we have been unable to completely eliminate exposure. We want to assure our members and our community that we are following all guidelines put in place by the local health department and are taking the necessary steps to prevent further exposure,” the church said in a Facebook post.
Some of those precautionary steps include several hand-sanitizing stations in the building, encouraging social distancing in family groups during services and providing masks for those who choose to attend services.
Worship Pastor Cassie Perry said though masks are available, the church is not requiring them to be worn at all times during the service.
“Some people are wearing them, but we do not ask for everyone to put them on because we don’t know if someone has a health condition that would keep them from wearing it,” Perry said. “We don’t feel like we can tell them to wear them in that situation.”
Additionally, the gathering space is disinfected after each service and equipment used by the worship team, like microphones, computers or soundboards, is used by just one person each week and is wiped down after each use.
Wayne Church of God resumed in-person services in June after more than three months of virtual worship services, Perry said, and hasn’t had any problems until now. Church officials said they discourage attendance if a person is showing any symptoms or has knowingly come in contact with the virus. There have not been any children’s ministry services.
Perry said they have been at or below 50% capacity each Sunday they have held a live Sunday morning service, but had more people than they typically would in the building during a four-day revival last week. Traveling evangelist Garrett Marchant, with Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee, spoke at the multi-day event.
“There were still less than 75 people there,” she said. “We were notified that some of our members woke up not feeling well on Saturday. They went to the doctor and were tested.”
The first positive results were found early this week after testing was done over the weekend. The service on Sunday, Aug. 30, was canceled because of pending results. Now, for at least the next two weeks, the building will be closed.
“We do plan to have a virtual leadership meeting and revisit guidelines and make sure those are being followed properly. The church will not be open until it is completely sanitized,” said Perry.
According to the Wayne County Health Department, there have been 267 positive cases reported countywide, an increase of 34 cases in seven days. Forty-one of those cases are considered active. The county is also reporting three probable cases.
Outbreaks have been tied to churches in other West Virginia counties this summer, though officials have declined to identify the specific houses of worship.
Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch previously said health officials weighed whether or not the churches with outbreaks should be named, but ultimately decided doing so did more harm than good. He said there were also confidentiality concerns.
“Church members feel having their name publicly mentioned in the media did not help them,” Dr. Ayne Amjad, state health officer, previously said. “We reach out to the churches, help them get their services online or find other ways to make their worship safe. But they did feel they were being stigmatized by the media. We are trying to help them and then help the community. It’s personal. They want to worship, and we don’t want to make it a bad thing for church members.”
Concerning the number of positives found within the church, Perry said the number of confirmed cases is “less than what people are probably thinking” and she hopes that people are not scared to return to the church once reopened. She said they were advised by the health department not to release the exact number or other details.
“We’re a church in the community that goes above and beyond to help people,” said Perry. “We don’t want people to feel like they can’t come once we open back.”