What you need to know about church, Communion: The Oregonian/OregonLive’s guide to reopening – OregonLive
The biggest thing to remember before venturing forth: Many people spreading the virus appear perfectly healthy, so a strategy of simply avoiding people who look sick won’t work.
That’s why mask-wearing, good ventilation with outside air and staying as far away as you can from others – ideally well over the 6 feet recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — are all crucial, says Richard Corsi, a Portland State University dean who has been researching airborne transmission of the novel coronavirus.
The Oregonian/OregonLive asked Corsi and other experts about the safety of going out in Oregon today. Here’s what they — and the latest body of scientific studies — say about worship and religious gatherings:
Outbreaks have been traced to a concerning number of religious settings.
In March, two members of an Arkansas church ended up infecting 61 fellow church-goers or others linked to the congregation. Four died.
At least 71 people linked to a Sacramento-area church came down with COVID-19 by early April after church services closed but many members continued to meet in violation of California’s stay-at-home order, public health officials said.
CDC guidelines suggest halting the practices of hand-holding during services and passing around the collection basket (but it’s OK to place the basket in a stationary spot). In Catholic churches, the agency recommends placing the Holy Communion in parishioners’ hands, not on their tongues.
But even with social distancing measures, the disease has still surfaced.
Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Houston closed May 14 and has advised all of its parishioners to get tested in an attempt to identify if an outbreak is underway. A day earlier, a 79-year-old priest from the Texas church died from a suspected case of COVID-19.
His death occurred 11 days after services there had reconvened under a requirement to wear masks. Attendance never exceeded 179 people in the 900-person sanctuary for Sunday Masses.
Since the priest’s death, five members of his religious order have tested positive for the disease, including two other priests who actively participated in Masses.
Under Oregon’s Phase I, groups of 25 or fewer people are allowed to gather if they maintain at least 6 feet from others outside their households.
Corsi said making sure people are spaced out, disinfecting surfaces and increasing airflow from the outdoors will all lower the risk.
He also agrees with the decisions some churches, like those in Germany, are making: No singing. The vibration of the vocal cords while singing releases increased amounts of virus in both large and microscopic droplets, he said.
“You don’t want to be in an indoor environment with a lot of people singing,” he said.
Case-in-point, 52 of 61 people who attended a March choir practice in Mount Vernon, Wash., about 60 miles north of Seattle, came down with the disease. Two of them died.
A pastor distributes communion wafers on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com
Whether a minister can safely give Holy Communion when it means standing within 2 or 3 feet of parishioners is a vexing question.
John Kowalczyk, who spent his career working for state and federal public health agencies before retiring, was elated when he learned that Masses at his Portland church are restarting this weekend
He was “greatly troubled,” however, upon learning about guidelines from the Archdiocese of Portland, which state that people who don’t share a household must maintain 6 feet of distance from each other but that doesn’t apply to priests during Communion.
Parishioners also have the option of receiving Communion in their hands or on their tongues, according to the archdiocese’s guidelines. Those who choose the tongue will be asked to wait at the back of the line and priests who end up touching parishioners during this process have been told to sanitize their hands before continuing.
Kowalczyk said he worries that even if priests don’t touch parishioners’ mouths, the virus still will be expelled onto their hands.
“If you’re within an inch or two of the orifices that emit the virus, you’re going to get the virus on your fingers,” Kowalczyk said. “You’re going to get a full blast.”
Kowalczyk also believes other procedures within the church need to be more stringent. That includes requiring face coverings of all church-goers, not just recommending it, to reduce “the cloud” of potential virus exhaled into the sanctuary.
Because his pastor will be within a few feet of parishioners during Communion, Kowalczyk said he offered him a higher-quality N95 mask, but his pastor refused, explaining he didn’t want to deprive a medical worker of such a mask.
Kowalczyk said he now plans to offer his pastor a KN95 mask that he ordered in the mail, and Kowalczyk hopes he’ll accept it.
Read The Oregonian/OregonLive’s full guide to reopening safely.