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Masses following CDC health guidelines ‘extremely safe’ to attend, expert says

‘I just sat in the back pews and felt waves of peace wash over me’ (Photo: Mazur)

With parishes across California resuming their liturgical lives, Massgoers should be reassured about the level of risk going to church entails. 

“It is extremely safe to attend Mass indoors following common sense precautions as recommended by the CDC,” Dr. Timothy Flanigan said. 

Flanigan, professor of medicine and of health services, policy and practice at Brown University, member of the university’s Division of Infectious Diseases and a Catholic deacon, helped author guidelines published by the Thomistic Institute on safely celebrating Mass during the pandemic. 

Following the ‘3 W’s’: “Wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance from others,” is key for public safety, as well as heeding CDC recommendations for worship spaces that include good ventilation, staying home when sick and having capacity limits. 

With hundreds of thousands of Masses being celebrated since parts of the country began reopening, “There have been no clusters of cases reported that have been linked to church attendance where these commonsense precautions have been followed,” he said.  

A series of cases from Seattle, where unknowingly infected individuals who later reported testing positive attended Masses and other services that were following COVID safety practices, show the effectiveness of following the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines. In each case, no outbreak of the disease was associated with the individual’s attendance. 

“This encouraging news should inspire confidence that the guidelines in place — based on CDC recommendations — are working to decrease COVID-19 transmission,” Flanigan wrote in an Aug. 19 article in Real Clear Science. “While nothing during a pandemic is risk-free, these guidelines mean that Catholics (and public officials) may be confident that it’s reasonably safe to come to church for Mass and the sacraments.”

Flanigan also said there was no data indicating the length of Mass by itself as a significant risk factor for COVID transmission. 

“People should worship the way it’s best to worship. When individuals follow the 3 W’s, we have not seen any outbreaks related to longer services,” he said. 

On Feb. 5, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down California’s ban on indoor worship. In a Feb. 8 letter to priests, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone welcomed the decision, but stressed the importance of celebrating Mass safely and noted the ruling “does not change the science.” Holding Mass outdoors adds “an additional safety precaution for those gathered,” he said, and indoor liturgies must strictly follow the archdiocese’s safety protocols. 

“The four principal practices remain in place: social distancing, masks, sanitation, and ventilation,” he said. 

Read more at Catholic San Francisco

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