Diocese on coronavirus: be prepared, don’t panic

Lindsay Steele
Signage for step two of the diocesan flu policy sits atop an empty font at Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City.

By Barb Arland-Fye and
Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Preparation, not panic, is the focus of a message from the Diocese of Davenport regarding the coronavirus, designated COVID-19 by world health authorities.

“The current outbreak of COVID-19 has many of us concerned, even anxious. In anticipation of pandemic influenza, and other similar infectious disease emergencies, our diocese developed a stepped and flexible approach for parishes and other diocesan entities to take, depending on the severity of the outbreak. We activate the first step of the policy every flu season. Further steps are taken at the discretion of the bishop,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said last week.

“While we are keeping a close watch on how this situation develops, we need to be very careful not to panic or over-react,” the bishop said. “Above all, we should avoid stigmatizing those who come from countries that have been especially affected by the disease. We are called to compassion, and to keep well-informed.”

At the end of last week, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) “recommended that we stop sharing the chalice and the sign of peace,” the Diocese of Davenport said in a March 9 statement. “While this virus seems to be very contagious, the good news is that most people (80%) who become ill with it have mild disease. Those who are at highest risk are the elderly and those with chronic illnesses,” the statement said.

On March 9, the diocese moved to Step Two of its Pandemic Flu Policy because the virus continues to spread across the United States, including in Iowa. That same day, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced eight “presumptive positive cases of 2019 novel coronavirus … all related to travel. All are recovering at home in isolation.” Seven of the eight were on the same Egyptian cruise. Those seven live in Johnson County. The eighth individual lives in Pottawattamie County and recently traveled to California.

In the Davenport Diocese, Step Two includes the following liturgical changes (see https://www.davenportdiocese.org/flu for complete policy):

• Keep the vessels containing the bread and wine covered until placing them on the altar.
• No longer offer Communion under the form of wine.
• No longer receive the host on the tongue.
• In giving Communion on the hand, the minister should not touch the communicant; in places where those not receiving Communion receive a blessing instead, the blessing is given without touching them.
• Share the sign of peace with a simple bow or nod to one another and not with a handshake or hug. Parishes where congregants hold hands during the Our Father should stop that practice.
• Ministers (including clergy and ministers of hospitality) are asked not to shake hands when they greet parishioners. All ministers, since they will be touching items in common, are to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after Mass, and during Mass if needed.
• On Good Friday, the faithful will venerate the cross by a bow or genuflection, not by touching or kissing it.
• Communal celebration of the Anointing of the Sick is not recommended.
• Holy water fonts/stoups (with standing water) are emptied.

As part of Step Two responses, parishes and other entities should not use drinking fountains. Schools will be required to provide bottled water for students and staff during this time. These are a few of the requirements and recommendations provided by the diocese. See the diocesan website for additional requirements.
Parishes, schools and other entities have had to make additional changes in response to the coronavirus. Regina Catholic High School in Iowa City postponed its trip to Italy scheduled to depart March 14. That trip will take place during spring break 2021, Principal Glenn Plummer said in a letter to parents. “This was due to safety concerns and travel restrictions related to COVID-19.”

St. Ambrose University in Davenport “is taking multiple steps to ensure the health and safety of our students both at home and abroad in response to the global COVID-19 outbreak” said Craig DeVrieze, the university’s director of communications. The university has canceled a scheduled March study visit by students and a professor to Reggio Emilia, Italy, located in northern Italy. University personnel also are working with a Study Abroad program partner to bring a student home from Milan, Italy, following cancellation of the program based on CDC protocols, DeVrieze said. In addition, an alumni trip to Rome scheduled for May will not take place.

Paige Echele, St. Ambrose University’s Education Abroad coordinator, remains in regular contact with each of the 11 students studying abroad, as well as their families. The university will support travel needs and academic continuation options with any of these students who return home. “We’re monitoring the situation pretty much hourly at this point,” she said. We are in daily communications with students as things change…. we’re here to support them.”

Father Jason Crossen, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf, said parishioners appreciate knowing that their parish cares for their well-being. “We’ve had a lot of good comments from parishioners … one parishioner mentioned that they are very glad to see that the church cares about this and is doing good proactive steps.”

The diocesan statement acknowledges the need for proactive steps “to care for our community and especially for those most vulnerable and at risk — not only from the disease itself, but from the social and economic consequences that an outbreak like this causes.”

Take care of yourself

*Wash hands frequently with soap and water (or an alcohol-based gel).
*Avoid close contact with those who are sick (if you are sick, seek care and stay away from others. Illness dispenses from the Sunday obligation to attend Mass).
*Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
*Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue and throw it away right away. Wash your hands. If you do not have a tissue, use the crook of your elbow.
*Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces by using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
*The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend face masks for general use. People who show symptoms of COVID-19 should wear a mask to protect others. People caring for others with the illness should also wear masks.

Resources regarding coronavirus

The Diocese of Davenport: https://www.davenportdiocese.org/flu
Send specific questions about the flu policy to Deacon Frank Agnoli, agnoli@davenportdiocese.org or by calling (563) 888-4257.

For more information about novel coronavirus, visit https://idph.iowa.gov/Emerging-Health-Issues/Novel-Coronavirus.  For Iowans with questions about COVID-19, contact the public hotline by calling 2-1-1.

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