Schools, parishes are urged to use common sense as coronavirus spreads

People wear masks as protection against the coronavirus as Pope Francis leads his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 26, 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In response to the spread of the coronavirus in the United States, the Archdiocese of Louisville is reminding people to wash their hands — thoroughly — and to stay home if they’re sick.

“Pastors and those who assist them are encouraged to remind parishioners about appropriate precautions that should take place to avoid the spread of communicable disease,” said a Feb. 28 letter to pastors and parish leaders. “These precautions encourage continued prudence and common sense.”

Parishes and schools were not planning changes to their routines as of March 2.

Letters from the archdiocese sent to Catholic school parents and leaders March 2 and parish leaders Feb. 28 said the archdiocese is monitoring recommendations from several sources: the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Letters to parish leaders reminded parishioners that ministers of holy Communion should wash their hands before church and use an alcohol-based hand cleaner before and after Communion. The letter noted that receiving the Eucharist from the cup is not required. It also noted that it is always permissible to offer the sign of peace without a handshake.

In addition, the letters said, “parishioners are reminded that communicable illness is a valid reason to miss Mass.”

For now, Communion will be available in both species, the letter to priests said, but added that pastors may also use “discretion in response to particular pastoral needs.”

Letters to school leaders and parents said the archdiocese will “continue to monitor the situation, and if conditions change, we will make adjustments as needed.”

Schools that are planning student trips were encouraged to check the CDC website for updated travel warnings.

Archdiocese of Louisville schools will adapt their emergency plan for a flu pandemic if coronavirus becomes a pandemic.

That plan calls for monitoring attendance and using alternative instruction days,  in which students learn online from home.

Coronavirus is a respiratory illness that was initially  identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, according to the CDC. It first appeared in the United States Jan. 21 and it has spread around the country in the last week. As of March 3, it was present in 15 states, 100 cases had been reported and six deaths had resulted. Kentucky has not had a reported case as of the morning of March 3.

Worldwide, the Associated Press reported more than 90,000 cases and about 3,000 deaths as of March 3.

The CDC has emphasized the importance of hand-washing to prevent the spread of the virus. Its website, CDC.gov offers tips for effective hand-washing, including the use of soap and washing for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are unavailable, it advises the use of hand cleaning products that are at least 60 percent alcohol.

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