West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said on Monday that at least 18 active Covid-19 outbreaks were traced to church services in the state.
The outbreaks were reported in 13 counties: Berkeley, Doddridge, Harrison, Logan, Mason, Mercer, Monroe, Nicholas, Putnam, Upshur, Wayne, Wetzel, and Wood.
"We all know that church is a place that absolutely this killer can really thrive. We're singing, we love to see all those that we love and that are in our church family with us," said Justice.
"It's an absolute place where a lot of our elderly go and we've got to wear a mask, stay a pew apart, and from the standpoint of our elderly, you can get your services online or something like that," he said.
The US Centers for Disease Control has warned that that singing in close proximity can facilitate spread of the coronavirus, and has recommended that organizations "consider temporarily suspending singing, chanting, or shouting during events especially when participants are in close proximity to each other."
Last March, a Covid-19 outbreak swept through a choir in Mount Vernon, Washington, killing two members and sickening 53. And in early July California temporarily banned singing and chanting in places of worship, citing the risks of church members being infected by "contaminated exhaled droplets."
In West Virginia, Governor Justice also reported 43 outbreaks at long-term care facilities and 12 new cases at three correctional facilities. Justice says schools have reported 19 outbreaks with 59 confirmed cases.
"First and foremost, we need to be going to school. School is way more important than playing a game, absolutely way more important," Justice said.
"But then right behind that, what is more important than even going to school and that's really finding the people that are the spreaders, so we can stop people from dying. You know, there's so many different variations to this and I feel everybody's pain and everybody's frustration, there is no right answer," he added.
West Virginia has had more than 20,000 cases according to Johns Hopkins University's (JHU) tally of cases in the United States, which have resulted in 402 deaths. The state recorded its highest 7-day average for new daily cases yesterday, per JHU data, and is one of 27 states that are showing upward trends.