With "religious entities" such as churches and funeral homes having joined some small businesses in reopening beginning on Monday, May 4, health officials are concerned that many people may not be aware that these are “soft" openings with provisions.

Health officials said these provisions for religious entities in particular--which are listed in Legislative Rule 646R-113 along with businesses and which orders the continued practice of social distancing and reducing the number of people attending in-house church and/or funeral services--already have raised some concerns regarding funeral services held at a few Mingo County funeral homes this week.

With many area churches ready to begin holding in-house services this weekend, health officials said these concerns only become more heightened as Sunday approaches.

"Because we've had some trouble this week with attendance at at a few funeral homes and people understanding the executive order concerning the rules for 'religious entities, it's important, especially with many of our churches planning to hold inside services this weekend, that they are reminded of what the order says," said Mingo Health Department Administrator Keith Blankenship.

"We just want to make sure people understand that we are not back to normal and that in order for everyone to stay safe they still need to follow all the guidelines set forth by the governor."

While the governor still advises that religious entities, wherever possible, continue to lower the risk by holding in-person services online or in parking lots, should churches opt for in-house services, Blankenship said Legislative Rule 646R-113 stipulates that there should be no more than two people per 10,000 sq. ft. inside a building.

"If you do the math, this means for a building with 10,000 square feet of space, whether that's a church or funeral home, there should be no more than 20 people inside at one time," he said. "There should be 6 feet distance between every person, with every person sitting in every other pew. For some of the larger churches, this may mean having to hold multiple services but it's necessary in order for everyone to remain safe. The governor wants to try to normalize things as we go forward, but he wants us to do it safely and to remember we have a ways to go before everything normalizes again."

Blankenship additionally stressed the importance of people continuing to practice the following:

• Instruct sick employees, volunteers, and guests to stay home.

• Maintain good hygiene by washing your hands frequently, using hand san-

itizer.

• Use of elbow to cover coughs, and not touching your face.

• Implement environmental cleanliness and sanitation practices (i.e., clean and disinfect work areas frequently).

• Check CDC guidelines for preparing your community-based and faith-based organizations for COVID-19 at CDC.gov.

• (Religious entities and facilities should also maintain contact with their respective denominational or faith community leaders for any additional concerns or guidance.)

As of 4 p.m., Thursday, May 7, Blankenship said, 474 COVID-19 tests have been conducted in Mingo County with 470 having been determined negative, two positive (with one death), and two tests still pending.

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