The Brooklyn and Queens Catholic diocese is changing its communion routine as the coronavirus becomes a threat in New York City.
Last week, three people were hospitalized and tested for the coronavirus in Queens and Manhattan until their lab work was completed. The results came out negative, but church officials said they were not taking chances that anyone going to mass might get sick. As a result, the church issued directives that changed the communion routine by not using wine during the mass.
“During communion, we are not giving the blood of Christ until further notice,” said Father Raphael Zwolenkiewicz from the Most Holy Trinity Church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The decision was made public last Sunday. According to Father Raphael, three weeks ago the directives from the diocese gave instructions to priests to tell people not to take the wine if they did not feel well.
The church made other adjustments to the service as well. There is a moment during mass, in which Catholics say, “Peace be with you,” and shake hands with those around them. To prevent the spread of illness, the directives suggested holding up two fingers in the sign of peace or making the sign of a hug without actually touching the person next to you.
The church typically takes cautionary measures during flu season, but this year with the coronavirus the modifications are stronger.
“Every flu season we make sure people do not get sick at church and tell them not to come if they are not feeling well,” said Father Raphael, who also believes that the more he says this during mass, the more people will understand the gravity of this coronavirus outbreak.
On Sunday, some of the people that attended mass at this Williamsburg church said they feel comfortable with these changes, as they are a way to avoid the spread of the virus.
“It is for the well being of all of us, said Carmen Rodriguez, who got her first communion in this church more than 30 years ago.
“We have to be obedient. I do not want to get sick, especially during this time of coronavirus,” said Rafael Gutierrez, who has lived in the area and has been going to the church for more than 15 years.
The Catholic church in New York is not alone in taking steps to limit the spread of the virus. In a joint initiative of the Office of Papal Charities and the Chinese Church in Italy, the Vatican sent hundreds of thousands of masks to China at the beginning of the month.
According to a report released on Sunday from the World Health Organization, the novel coronavirus has left more than 900 dead in China, two died outside of the mainland. The illness has also reach countries in Europe and Africa, as well as Canada and the United States. The report showed the number of deaths from the coronavirus have surpassed the toll from the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003.
Eighty-nine deaths and 2,676 new cases were recorded in the preceding 24 hours, most of them in Hubei Province, the heart of the outbreak. As of February 9th, there were 307 cases outside of China, with 24 countries affected.
The report came with an update about the cruise ship Diamond Princess, with 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew members on board. The ship was put under a 14-day quarantine in Yokohama, Japan last week. This happened after one of its passengers tested positive from the deadly virus in a local hospital on January 25th while visiting a local hospital in Hong Kong.
Sixty-five more individuals were found infected making a total amount of 135 on board with the coronavirus. All passengers are asked to wear a mask when they leave their cabin.
The World Health Organization reported that the coronavirus presents a high risk worldwide and is asking for everyone to follow proper health precautions such as avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections, washing their hands frequently, and staying away from farm and wild animals.
The New York State Department of Health asked the public to pay attention to the following symptoms: cough, fever, trouble breathing and pneumonia. So far, there are no confirmed cases in the State of New York. Twenty-two out of the 23 cases sent for testing have come out negative; tests results for the remaining one have still not been completed.
The deputy press secretary of communications at the diocese, John Quaglione, said the most important thing to remember during this outbreak is to limit interactions with people and to get medical attention if you’re not feeling well.
Correction: The original version of this story mistakenly listed Mr. Quaglione’s title incorrectly. We apologize for the error.