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The state minority health advisory group is releasing a series of testimonials from COVID-19 survivors and prominent West Virginians, warning against the effects of the disease and the toll it takes on families.

T.D. Jakes, a bishop and megachurch pastor in Dallas, but a native West Virginian, recorded a minute-long PSA directed to West Virginians, urging them to get tested for COVID-19.

“I think about you often, all of my friends and schoolmates and church mates … I love you and miss you,” Jakes said. “I want to encourage you not to let anybody dissuade you. You need to get tested for COVID-19; it’s running rampant. It’s hurting a lot of people. It’s killing them.”

Jakes was born and raised in Kanawha County, and opened his first church — with 10 congregants — in Montgomery. He is now the head pastor and founder of The Potter’s House, a nondenominational church and humanitarian organization with a congregation of more than 30,000 members across its locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“Wear a mask. It’s so much easier to wear a mask than wear a ventilator,” Jakes said in the video, which is posted to the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs Facebook page. “Social distance yourself, even from people you know and love. If they don’t live with you, keep your distance. Especially if you have preexisting conditions in your body.”

Romelia Hodges, one of the advisory group’s 12 members, tested positive for COVID-19 following a church event in March. Hodges played a critical role in securing testing for the churchgoers — which made up the majority of North Central West Virginia’s Black Baptist church community — following the event.

Calls for help to local legislators following the outbreak went unreturned, and Hodges found it nearly impossible to work with the Marion County Health Department to find testing for the churchgoers. Hodges worked with fellow advisory group member Tiffany Walker-Samuels, and with Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, to finally organize a testing strategy weeks after the event.

All the while, Hodges was positive for COVID-19. While she never felt any symptoms, her husband Patrick Hodges nearly died from the disease.

“It also touched my children,” Hodges said in her testimonial. “Many of my family members have a critical preexisting condition. I just can’t imagine passing this virus to the people that I love. I’ve never experienced a weight heavier knowing that I could have played a role in losing the people that I loved the most.”

Hodges echoed the campaign’s focus, that everyday people are the face of COVID-19 in West Virginia.

“I am a healthy, active, energetic career woman. I am a wife, a mother and I’m a proud West Virginian, and I am the face of COVID-19,” Hodges said. “ … That’s why I appeal to you, my fellow West Virginians, to take this virus seriously.”

Jonathan Wesley, a musician in The Unit, a Charleston-area band, said before he tested positive in early April, he called his doctor seeking help for what he thought was a sinus infection. Wesley was experiencing headaches, sinus pressure, loss of appetite, fever and fatigue.

Wesley was forced to isolate from his family, which he said took a further toll on his health.

“Self care — it was very important — focusing on my emotional, physical and mental health in order to be present for my family,” Wesley said.

West Virginia recorded its 101st death due to COVID-19 on Tuesday, and positive cases continue to trend upward. State leaders are hoping West Virginia’s mask mandate will turn things around before schools are scheduled to reopen in early September.

Jakes ended his video with a message of hope for West Virginians, that if public health guidelines are followed, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I want to speak to West Virginia and tell you that you’re in my prayers, and you’re in my thoughts,” Jakes said. “We’re going to get through this together.”

Reach Joe Severino at, 304-348-4814 or follow @jj_severino on Twitter.