WASHINGTON — Evidence suggests that church services following public health guidelines do not present a greater risk of spreading the novel coronavirus than other similar activities, doctors said last week.
Washing hands, social distancing, and mask requirements have helped prevent the spread of COVID-19, even in cases when contagious, pre-symptomatic parishioners took part in church events, three members of the Thomistic Institute Working Group on Infectious Disease Protocols for Sacraments & Pastoral Care concluded.
Doctors Thomas McGovern, Deacon Timothy Flanigan, and Paul Cieslak authored an article for Real Clear Science on Mass attendance and COVID-19 Aug. 19.
“For Catholic churches following the guidelines, no outbreaks of COVID-19 have been linked to church attendance, even though we have examples ... of asymptomatic, unknowingly infected individuals attending mass and other parish functions,” they wrote. “Their attendance could have led to an outbreak if appropriate precautions were not followed, yet in each case, we found no evidence of viral transmission.”
“This encouraging news should inspire confidence that the guidelines in place - based on CDC recommendations - are working to decrease COVID-19 transmission,” the doctors continued. “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.”
Over the last 14 weeks, they said, approximately 17,000 parishes have held three or more Masses each weekend, as well as daily services, combining to equal more than 1 million public Masses celebrated across the United States since shelter-in-place orders were lifted.
By following public health guidelines, these Masses have largely avoided viral spread, the authors suggested.
Nick Schoen, an employee of the Archdiocese of Seattle, has initiated a contact-tracing protocol for Mass-goers in the area. Tracking individuals who have participated in church events shortly before testing positive for COVID-19, he found that none of these individuals launched outbreaks at churches.