Diocese reveals updated guidelines for dealing with Coronavirus
The Diocese of Buffalo has released updated protocols for parishes in light of the recent rise in Covid-19 cases in Western New York. The document called, “Covid-19: Pastoral Responses to Recent Surge of Cases. Parish protocols for contact and closure was given to pastors and parish administrators Nov. 14. It addresses what procedures to take when staff members become sick, and how the state’s new “Cluster Action Initiative” may affect ministry, particularly if our area enters an orange or red level.
“I know that our people expect and appreciate our attention to their safety and well-being in all things, temporal and spiritual. At the same time, I hope and pray that you are taking care of yourself and staying safe,” wrote Father Sean Paul Fleming, director of the diocesan Office of Worship, which oversees liturgical norms.
If a parish employee at any level believes they have contracted Covid-19, or that they have had enough exposure to someone who has contracted the virus to pose a threat to their own personal health, the pastor or administrator should contact their county health department to determine proper actions for the individual or individuals exposed, including but not limited to: testing, monitoring of symptoms, additional sanitization of the parish campus, any contract tracing, and the possibility of a need to close the parish campus/facilities. This should be done in compliance with recommendations made by government health officials.
The pastor or administrator should also inform the Chancery and the Office of Worship of any anticipated temporary or prolonged closure of the parish, especially in terms of the suspension of public Masses or other celebrations that may mitigate the spread of the exposure.
If a closure results, parishioners should be encouraged to attend other parishes or view any available live-streamed Mass. As a reminder, the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass remains in effect, and individuals should always exercise cautious personal judgment.
The document also outlined acceptable attendance levels for each of the state’s new caution zones. The current Yellow (precautionary) Zone allows for up to 50 percent building capacity for indoor worship services. The Orange (warning) Zone restricts services to the lesser of 33 percent capacity or 25 people. While daily Masses and small weddings/funerals may be possible with these numbers, weekend Masses may not. At the Red (most restrictive) level, worship services are restricted to the lesser of 25 percent capacity or 10 people. While small weddings/funerals may be possible with these numbers, most other celebrations may not be. Some areas of the Diocese will fall under Orange Zone restrictions this Friday.
Even if there is no apparent or immanent threat in a particular region, the dispensation to attend weekend Mass remains in place. Even though daily Eucharist is encouraged for those who desire it under normal circumstances, pastors may modify the schedule of Masses, particularly daily Masses, at their discretion. For instance, if a pastor, administrator or supply priests are in a vulnerable category or wish to limit their travel and exposure to the virus, a reduction of daily Masses could be one approach within the purview of the parish.
Updates can be found at http://www.buffalodiocese.org/coronavirus.