By Colleen Rowan
WEST VIRGINIA—Three of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s churches are closed due to COVID-19 concerns. Sacred Heart parishes in Bluefield and Princeton announced July 6 the temporary closure of the churches after the pastor, Father Sebastian Devasya, was exposed to an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. Just three days before, St. Brendan Parish in Elkins announced the closure of its church after a parishioner tested positive for COVID-19.
Father Devasya has not been diagnosed with COVID-19. He took a rapid test, and the results were negative. As a precautionary measure, he also received a nasal test and is awaiting the results.
All three churches are closed for two weeks. Officials of the parishes said the decision to close was made with the advice of health officials and the diocese.
On St. Brendan’s Facebook page and website July 3, it was announced in a statement that the parishioner who tetsed positive for COVID-19, who is showing no signs of illness, attended Mass the previous weekend.
“According to health officials, with the wearing of masks, social distancing during Mass, hand sanitizing, and the short amount of time people were gathered, the chances of other parishioners getting the virus is small,” the statement said. “However, in an overabundance of caution, the diocese’s chancery has advised us to cancel all Masses for the next two weeks, both weekend and daily Masses.”
Those who would like to be tested, should contact Davis Medical Center in Elkins, the statement said. Meanwhile, weekend Masses are being posted on the parish’s Facebook page.
In a July 7 letter to his parishioners in Bluefield and Princeton, Father Devasya said that when he received the call informing him that he was exposed to an individual who tested postive for COVID-19, he immediately contacted the diocese. “It is under their guidance, the local health department guidelines, and with a desire to proceed with what is best for everyone that I am self-quarantining for 14 days,” he said. “According to our local health department guidelines, anyone who has been exposed to a positive COVID-19 case should self-quarantine for 14 days.”
Father Devasya wants to assure parishioners that he will not resume Masses until the quarantine period is over and all retesting has negative results.
“I am very blessed and touched by the overwhelming care and concern you have shown me upon learning of the possible exposure to the coronavirus,” he said in his letter to parishioners.
“In closing, we will get through these uncertain times together. Let us continue to pray for those effected by the coronavirus showing them love and compassion. Let us also pray for a vaccine and cure,” he said in the letter. “We will focus on the day when we can once again come together to worship freely and offer God our praise and thanksgiving.”
Father Devasya will continue to livestream the Masses from the Day Chapel in Bluefield each evening at 6 p.m. and on Sunday at 10 a.m.
“We ask for your patience and understanding,” Kimberly Hickman, parish secretary in Princeton, shared in a message to parishioners July 6. “This is a new disease that we do not fully comprehend to how quickly it can spread. The last thing we wish is for anyone to be infected. We continue to ask for prayers for all who are affected by this virus and for you to wear facial masks, wash your hands often, and follow all safe social distancing guidelines.”
The same day the closures of the Bluefield and Princeton churches were announced, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced that he has issued an executive order that establishes a statewide indoor face covering requirement.
A press release from the governor’s office said the order requires all West Virginians age 9 and older to wear a face covering at all indoor public places where six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.
The requirement does not apply to anyone who has trouble breathing or anyone who is otherwise unable to remove their own face covering without assistance.
The governor’s announcement came after West Virginia experienced its highest daily total of new COVID-19 cases over that weekend.
“I know it’s an inconvenience, but it’s not going to be much of an inconvenience,” Justice said. “If you don’t decide to wear the face covering for yourself, if you don’t decide to wear it for one of your loved ones or your friends, do it for the 95 West Virginians that have died, do it for the 95 people that we’ve lost.”
The requirement to wear face coverings does not apply inside residents’ homes or vehicles or when consuming food or beverages inside a restaurant.
The requirement does not apply anywhere outside. However, state health leaders still strongly suggest that residents wear a face covering when outside in circumstances where proper social distance is difficult to maintain.
Three Churches Close Due to COVID-19 Concerns
By Colleen Rowan