Diocese eases COVID-19 pandemic restrictions: Parishes, schools deal with protocols from diocese and state

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By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Parishes and schools in the Diocese of Davenport, where mask wearing and social distancing have become a habit during the COVID-19 pandemic, are discovering some of the challenges of moving toward normalcy.

Contributed
St. Paul the Apostle third-grader Sam Corsiglia listens during class at the Davenport Catholic school.

However, they welcome the opportunity to figure out how to apply the diocese’s newly updated COVID-19 policy to the unique situations of the parishes and schools they serve. On May 14, the diocese issued a five-page statement on moving from “Step 2 to Step 3 for Reopening.”

The policy opens the door this Pentecost weekend for optional use of masks (for fully vaccinated individuals), use of missalettes and hymnals, congregational singing, procession through the assembly, the use of multiple readers, resumption of the collection by ushers, and the exchange of the sign of peace within households. Communion will continue to be distributed under the form of the host. Communion on the tongue is permitted to those who have been vaccinated. Those who are unvaccinated and wish to receive on the tongue should present themselves at the end of the Communion line.

Diocesan leaders had to respond quickly because of the CDC’s unexpected announcement on May 13 lifting mask-wearing and social distancing requirements for individuals who have been fully vaccinated. “The Diocese of Davenport follows CDC guidance that increasingly distinguishes between people who are vaccinated and those not vaccinated when determining safety protocols,” the diocese’s statement said (catholicmessenger.net).

“Outside of the employer-staff work relationship, a person is normally not required to provide their vaccination status. There are exceptions of course,” Deacon David Montgomery, diocesan chief of staff, told the Messenger. “We cannot assume that someone wearing a mask is not vaccinated. The person may not be vaccinated or may be vaccinated and want to take additional protective measures against infection by wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance from others. If someone is wearing a mask, people should respect their decision regardless of their vaccination status and act appropriately.”

Some challenges

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Conversely, the inability to assume who is and who isn’t vaccinated “makes it challenging to know how to handle things in parishes, especially at Mass, Deacon Montgomery said. The guidelines for the CDC and the State of Iowa do not agree, but the CDC advises to follow local and state protocols. Additional risk of infection is possible for unvaccinated children and adults who are not wearing masks. The risk is less with children according to the CDC.

That uncertainty leaves some parishes scrambling to determine how to protect everyone at Mass and educators wondering how to keep students, faculty and staff safe, two weeks before the academic year ends.

“From what I have heard so far, the main concern is how to provide space at Mass for both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons without knowing how many there will be in each group and without singling out those who are unvaccinated,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said May 17. He planned to meet with priests this week via Zoom for their input about the policy.

Questions the bishop has heard:

  • For those who are unvaccinated, how does the six-foot distancing rule apply? Does it apply to the people around them? Should churches still seat people every other pew?
  • Do people still need to sanitize their hands before and after receiving Communion?
  • Can parishes serve coffee and doughnuts after Mass in the parish hall? What are the protocols?

St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville posted worship guidelines on its Facebook page that emphasized a welcoming attitude toward all. “We respect each and every individual and understand that there are many different reasons why some will prefer to continue wearing masks and social distancing. We want you to feel comfortable and welcome. We want everyone to recognize that they enter a ‘judgement free zone’ when they come into St. Thomas More Church.”

The parish encourages worshippers to “bring your children. Yes, unvaccinated children over the age of two are still required to wear masks for their own safety and the safety of anyone unvaccinated or with compromised immunity. However, your children are important to us and we value them in our church.”

Short-range radio broadcasts of weekend Masses will continue in the parking lot (91.3 FM) and recordings of Saturday evening Mass will be available for viewing on the parish webpage, Facebook and YouTube. The parish will “gradually reintroduce congregational singing in church” and in time worship aids will be provided and parish bulletins distributed by the ushers. “Chairs in the church are currently spaced apart so that we are at about 50% of the pre-pandemic capacity. Please feel free to move chairs to accommodate your family size and your comfort level. Hand sanitizer is still highly encouraged.”

A parishioner’s gratitude

Michael Clarke, a parishioner of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport, posted on Facebook his enthusiastic response to the updated diocesan policy. One of his ministries is taking care of the baptismal font. Nearly 15 months ago, COVID-19 restrictions placed him on “sabbatical.” With the help of parishioners Steve and Char McGovern and the approval of Father Jake Greiner, the pastor, “the baptismal font is back and running. I didn’t realize how much this would mean for me to hear it again and see it again but it’s super neat,” he wrote. “Fr. Jake will be by to bless it shortly and we can start using it to remember our baptism and being born again as followers of Christ. God bless y’all and have a happy Sunday!!”

Looking out for students

In its May 14 statement, the diocese advised diocesan schools that they may follow the guidelines provided by the Iowa Department of Education and the Iowa Department of Public Health. The diocesan policy encouraged schools to follow CDC guidelines.
In response to the diocesan statement, Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Lee Morrison said the “overwhelming majority of our schools have required mask-wearing all year long and many plan to do so until the end of the school year.”

However, on May 19, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law HF 847, which prohibits a school district or accredited nonpublic school from requiring employees, students or members of the public to wear masks. The law applies to diocesan schools.

“Our mission is to provide our students with a solid education and formation in the Catholic faith. We also need to keep them safe,” Morrison said. “We’ve lived through the worst pandemic in 100 years. The CDC wants to take extra precautions because they don’t want it to return.”


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