See what precautions local churches are taking ahead of coronavirus concerns

Published 12:12 am Thursday, March 5, 2020

As coronavirus becomes a household term and people rush to buy hand sanitizer and masks, local houses of worship are also responding in their own ways.

Bishop Curtis Guillory of the Catholic Diocese of Beaumont responded to the coronavirus threat by offering general preventative measures as well as Liturgical changes or adaptations.

The exchange of the wine-filled chalice from person to person and drinking from it will be discontinued. Holy Communion will only be given in the hand as the Diocese will discontinue giving communion on the tongue. To impart a blessing of people in the communion line with arms crossed, the priest will say “God bless you” without touching the person.

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It is also common during the Mass for parishioners to hold hands while singing or reciting the Our Father prayer and shake hands during the Sign of Peace. A bow, wave or saying “Peace be with you” is all acceptable expressions, the Bishop said in the letter.

Another changeup is the removal or emptying of the holy water fonts.

The clergy and others are asked to practice good hygiene and wash hands before Mass, use an alcohol-based anti-bacterial solution before and after distributing Communion and clean all liturgical vessels with warm soap and water — something that is also commonplace.

Cleaning and disinfecting of areas is also asked, among other tasks.

“Let us pray for those who have died from this coronavirus and for their families. Also pray for all medical professionals and staff who are attending to the sick and dying, who obviously will face increasing challenges during this epidemic,” Bishop Guillory said. “This is a time for making sacrifices for the sake of the common good. Perhaps we can learn to translate this fundamental Christian principle to other areas of our lives.”

Other churches

The Rev. Jason Burden of First Baptist Church Nederland said with the flu and colds, many people are already being cautious in church.

There are hand sanitizers at the entrances to the sanctuary and also along the hallways.

“One of the things that came up during our staff meeting (Tuesday) is the use of our Facebook Livestream,” Burden said. “We broadcast our worship service each week out to our Facebook Page. This has been a great resource for our homebound members, but in this flu season, I think it will be important for people to know that they can still participate in worship by joining us on social media. It’s not the same kind of experience as being in the sanctuary with us, but if someone is sick, it might prove to be a better option than going a week without any participation in worship.”

Social media also helps spread the word. Formerly someone would have to be at church to find out what was going on or to share prayer needs. Now there is an avenue to stay connected with a larger number of people, he said.

“I trust that our members will reach out to us through social media, email or give us a call at the office to let us know how we can serve them if they are ill and in need of prayer,” he said.

The Rev. Phil Chamberlin of United Methodist Temple in Port Arthur said they have always taken precautions against viruses with their Communion — they use antibacterial liquid prior to handing bread to people and they dip the cup and do not drink from it.

In addition, they do not hold hands in worship as some churches do.

The health department

Judith Smith, director of health services for the Port Arthur Health Department, said they have been in regular contact with the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The staff is updated as news happens and the front desk area has information about the coronavirus as well. Masks are available for those who may have traveled to one of the areas the illness has affected. Epidemiologist and nurses are on site.

Smith has spoke with Lamar State College Port Arthur and will speak with the Port Arthur Independent School District about putting plans in place should there be a threat.

She is also set to speak to various other departments and the mayor to keep them updated on the issue. She is looking to speak with the Jefferson County Health Department in Port Arthur and the Gulf Coast Health Center and other medical partners on how they would proceed if there was to be a confirmed case.

“What would we do and how we could proceed in trying to prevent human to human transmission,” she said. “We are not at that point, as was stated to us on the conference calls, for people to walk around with masks on.”

The health department does have surgical masks and N95 masks because the city has a tuberculosis clinic. The surgical masks are to prevent droplets from spreading from the ill person.

The masks are not recommended at this time, but hand washing and the use of a hand sanitizer that’s 60 to 90 percent alcohol based is recommended.

More than 120 cases of COVID-19, which originated in China in December, have been confirmed nationwide.

COVID-19 is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that’s a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past.

Health officials say the No. 1 key to prevention is for the public to behave as they would to protect themselves during flu season — washing hands often and thoroughly, avoiding touching the face, not going out when sick and disposing of tissues immediately after use.