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Taking precautions, Catholic churches have avoided COVID outbreaks, doctors say

On the feast of the Assumption, August 15, several small groups of people gathered in different parts of the plaza outside San Francisco’s Cathedral of St. Mary. Each group, limited to a dozen people, simultaneously participated in Mass led by a different priest.

It was in this way that San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone provided the liturgy for as many people as possible on one of the Church’s most important feast days, while still abiding by the city’s COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. No worship services may be held indoors, the city says, and gatherings must be limited to 12 socially distanced people.

The cathedral itself has a normal seating capacity of at least 2,000, but it cannot be used at this time, even for 12 Catholics. While Archbishop Cordileone patiently awaits his city easing up on its restrictions, to allow the same kind of indoor worship that other states and cities around the country have already permitted, a study by three infectious disease specialists may give his cause a boost. Catholic churches across the country have held approximately a million public Masses (in about 17,000 parishes) for the last 14 or more weeks, following guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus — social distancing, wearing masks and hand washing or sanitizing — and there have been no outbreaks of COVID-19 reported in any of them, the specialists say.

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