By Celine Klosterman
MOUNT PLEASANT — After reports that more than a quarter of Mount Pleasant High School students were home with flu-like symptoms Sept. 29, St. Alphonsus Parish became the first parish in the Davenport Diocese to move to step two of the diocese’s policy for influenza preparation.
In accordance with the policy, during Masses Oct. 3-4 the Mount Pleasant parish did not distribute Communion in the form of wine or on the tongue, and parishioners did not shake hands during the sign of peace or hold hands while praying the Lord’s Prayer. Hand sanitizers were placed throughout the church.
“It’s better to be proactive than reactive,” said Father Joseph P.V. Phung, pastor. Late last week, he knew of no parishioner who’d yet come down with the flu. “…We don’t want to make people panic, but we try to be alert to what’s happening.”
The precautions were mandated in the second level of a four-step policy designed to respond to increasing levels of threat from the flu. In step four, Masses are cancelled. Bishop Martin Amos must give parishes permission to implement steps two to four.
Parishioner Tiny Alaniz said last week she’d miss the elements taken out of Mass over concern about illness. “But if this is what we have to do to not get the flu, we will do it,” she said. She also advised praying for sick people.
Parishioner Judy Hoover said she also thinks the precautions are necessary, as preventive measures are every cold-and-flu season. An extraordinary minister of holy Communion, she’s carried hand sanitizer for about a year. She uses it before distributing Communion in the form of the host. In recent months, all of the parish’s eucharistic ministers have used sanitizer before giving out Communion.
Fr. Phung said St. Alphonsus would check with the health department in Henry County and with local schools this week before deciding whether to return to step one, which requires basic health precautions such as washing hands.
The parish is taking other precautions including sanitizing desks and chairs before and after religious education classes, providing hand sanitizer and cleaning doorknobs. Ministers to homebound parishioners and nursing home residents carry mouth-and-nose masks, Fr. Phung said.
Recent problems seem to have been contained to Mount Pleasant, Deacon Frank Agnoli, diocesan director of liturgy, said after checking with priests throughout the Keokuk Deanery. He commended Fr. Phung for keeping an eye on the local flu situation as the diocese had asked. Fr. Phung voiced thanks for the diocese’s efforts to prevent the spread of the flu.