As flu cases rise, churches take precautions
With the number of flu cases rising across Connecticut, some rituals during Catholic church Masses may be restricted.
Flu activity has rapidly spread across Connecticut over the last few weeks with more than 1,000 confirmed flu cases in the state, according to the Connecticut Department of Public Health.
According to the the department, 1,911 tested positive for the flu as of Jan. 20. The department also reported that 824 people had been hospitalized with flu-related illness and 32 people had died, including a 10-year-old boy.
The most common symptoms of influenza are fever, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches and fatigue. Vomiting and diarrhea may also occur, though is more likely to happen in younger children.
Dioceses in Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwich have told priests and the those who assist during Mass to wash their hands before and after Mass and to use hand sanitizer.
Other suggestions to clergy and parishioners include not shaking or holding hands, no wine distribution and encouraging people to receive communion in their hands, not the tongue.
The Bridgeport Diocese has left the decision on restrictions during Eucharistic liturgies to individual parishes.
“If you are not feeling well or suffering from any flu-like symptoms, please refrain from receiving the Eucharist from the cup and consider receiving the host in your hand.,” St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fairfield told its parishioners.
“This is good health practice year-round and not only during the winter months. Please be assured that those who distribute the Eucharist in our parish follow the safety regulations recommended by the Center for Disease Control. For your convenience, bottles of hand sanitizer are located at all entrances to the church. Let’s try to keep flu and cold germs at bay this winter.”
The Rev. John Walker of St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s churches in New Haven said, “the obligation to attend Sunday Mass is automatically suspended for someone who is sick. In other words, if you are sick and stay home, you are not committing a sin. You are being smart and prudent. And, actually, if you are badly sick and come to Mass anyways, you could actually be committing a sin by coming to Mass, since you are unnecessarily and recklessly jeopardizing the health of others.
“This is a serious matter. People are dying from the flu, right here in Connecticut. If you are sick, stay home until you are well. Note that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass is also automatically suspended if you stay home to take care of a family member who is sick.”
Walker said, “while the flu season is in full force, I would suggest that during the sign of peace a nod of the head or a verbal peace be with you without shaking hands might be a good idea -even if you yourself don’t feel sick and the person next to you doesn’t appear to be sick.”
Hospitals are also taking precautions to stop the spread of flu.
On Monday, St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport discouraging anyone with flu symptoms from making in-person visits to hospitalized loved ones.
“Our staff takes every precaution to help keep our patients, staff and visitors safe during flu season,” Dr. Corina Marcu, St. Vincent’s chief quality and medical education officer, said in release. “Considering the severity of this season’s activity, we need to ask the public to help us in our efforts by being vigilant and conservative when deciding whether or not to visit, especially if they are ill.”