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Archdiocese issues liturgical directives for coronavirus prevention

A screenshot of the Archdiocese of Boston's website pointing people to coronavirus information. Pilot photo/courtesy Archdiocese of Boston

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BRAINTREE -- Amid growing apprehension of the COVID-19 (2019 Novel Coronavirus) outbreak, the Archdiocese of Boston has issued messages to parishes and schools, offering reassurance that the situation is being monitored and advice for how to prevent and prepare for the virus' potential spread.

Liturgical directives to prevent the spread of the virus were put into effect Feb. 29 and will remain effective "until determined otherwise" by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley. These precautions are similar to those encouraged during flu outbreaks.

Holy water fonts are to be drained and cleaned regularly. The distribution of the Precious Blood during the Mass is suspended, with exceptions for people with severe cases of celiac disease. The faithful are to refrain from physical contact when exchanging the sign of peace. They may bow instead of shaking hands with people nearby.

The archdiocese's website was updated to provide information about the virus and how its spread may impact the activities of faith communities. The Catholic Schools Office sent a notice to schools about the virus, and the Office of Risk Management sent a notice to parishes.

COV-19, colloquially referred to as the coronavirus, is a respiratory illness whose symptoms can include fever, cough, or shortness of breath. According to the Centers for Disease Control, reported cases have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness or death.

"As of February 26, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the virus is NOT currently spreading in the US, although they indicate that we need to be prepared as it is likely to become widespread," the Office of Risk Management said in its Feb. 28 message to parishes.

It went on to say that the first case of the virus in Massachusetts was confirmed on Jan. 31, but that "the risk to the public remains low."

In addition to observing the liturgical directives, the archdiocese recommends practicing good hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus. This includes such practices as washing hands frequently or using hand sanitizer, coughing into a tissue or elbow, and cleaning commonly used surfaces.

"This is a situation that warrants consideration but not great concern at this point. More (of) the focus should be placed on planning and educating oneself through access to the appropriate resources, such as the CDC and the DPH," Joseph McEnness, executive director of the archdiocese's Office of Risk Management, said March 3.

The archdiocese recommends checking the websites of the Centers for Disease Control, Boston Children's Hospital, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for updates on the emerging situation. Links to these websites and information about the coronavirus can be found on the archdiocese website: www.bostoncatholic.org.

"We recognize that we're neither a health care provider nor a public health agency. And so what we're really doing is making it easy for folks to access those authorities," MC Sullivan, chief healthcare ethicist for the archdiocese, said March 3.

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