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WATCH NOW: Longtime pastor of outbreak-riddled Martinsville church apparently has died of COVID-19
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WATCH NOW: Longtime pastor of outbreak-riddled Martinsville church apparently has died of COVID-19

Mark Price, 62, pastor of the New Bethel Holiness Church, died at his home on Tuesday.

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Increasing studies have shown the efficacy of face-covering to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. However, some are still choosing to shun face masks. Experts suggest learning from how safety precautions of the past, such as seatbelts and condoms, were normalized to help aid the effort to normalize the face mask.

The popular, long-time pastor of a church in Martinsville that has been riddled by an outbreak of COVID-19 has died apparently because of that disease.

Mark Price, 62, pastor of the Greater New Bethel Holiness Church, at 929 Bethel Lane in Martinsville, died at his home on Bethel Lane on Tuesday.

The Martinsville Health Department has added Price’s death as one of five COVID-19-related deaths in the city and classifies that cause as “probable.”

“Right now we don’t know for sure,” West Piedmont Health District Public Information Officer Nancy Bell said. “We haven’t received the official cause of death.”

Bell did confirm there was an outbreak of the coronavirus at New Bethel Holiness Church, but she said she did not know the extent of that outbreak.

“Members have gotten sick, and people were attending without proper precautions — masks and social distancing,” Bell said.

Lamont Devins, a member of the church, said the situation at New Bethel is overwhelming and that the church has been closed since Aug. 5.

“It’s basically chaos,” Devins said. “There have been multiple tests and a lot of positives, and now we’re coping with the death [of the pastor].”

Martinsville Vice-Mayor Chad Martin told U.S. Sen. Mark Warner at an event Tuesday at New College Institute that a church “had more than 59 members to test positive for the coronavirus, and 15 of them were hospitalized.”

After a City Council meeting on Tuesday night, Martin confirmed he was speaking about New Bethel Holiness Church. He said Wednesday morning that the outbreak and Price’s death is more than upsetting.

“Our citizens need to understand the importance of socially distancing and how it affects the community at large,” Martin said. “This is not about politics. ... This is about people coming to the realization that this is real, and until we take it seriously, we will not come out of this situation.

“Lives are being lost which can be preventable if we understand that each of us has a responsibility to listen and follow guidelines for the safety of the community.”

Bell said the health department had not enforced the state’s emergency order rules upon local churches.

“It’s safe to say we are having multiple, faith-related, social-gathering problems, including weddings and funerals,” Bell said.

Price was a familiar face on the StarNews television station, where his weekly recorded service has been airing for more than 25 years.

“It’s been three weeks since they added a new program,” StarNews owner Charles Roark said. “Mark was always a breath of fresh air when he came in and paid his bill.”

Martin asked the community to keep the church family and Price’s family in their prayers.

“I am in a loss of words from grief and frustration that we have yet to understand the severity of this pandemic,” he said.

Price was the second resident of Martinsville to die in as many days and brings to five the number of residents who have died in the city. There now have been 30 in the West Piedmont Health District, which also includes Henry, Patrick and Franklin counties.

The Virginia Department of Health on Wednesday morning reported 34 new cases in the district, with 25 of them in Henry County, and seven new hospitalizations — six of those in the county. Martinsville and Patrick County each had four new cases, and the city had one new hospitalization. Franklin County had one new case.

Since March Henry County has had 778 cases, with 86 hospitalizations and 14 deaths. Martinsville has had 293 cases, with 45 hospitalizations and five deaths. Patrick County has had 209 cases, with 44 hospitalizations and 10 deaths. Franklin County has had 204 cases, with eight hospitalizations and one death.

Statewide VDH reports 115,458 cases and 2,515 deaths statewide — an increase of 21 since Tuesday. Some 9,326 people have been hospitalized.

Martinsville real estate agent Rives Coleman said the reality of COVID-19 has arrived with Price’s passing.

This “has been a difficult enough of a year for all of us personally,” Coleman said. “Pastor Mark Price was a true friend and a man of God.

“I always loved talking to Mark and always learned from him and came away from conversations with him inspired to be a better person.”

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt

CLARIFICATION: The word "Greater" was added to the name of the church to correspond with how it is listed in the obituary.

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt

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