Ask Fr. Jerry

I have a very practical question. What happens if I attend Sunday Mass at my parish and then later discover that I have tested positive for COVID-19? What should I do? What steps does the parish need to do; hopefully they don’t have to shut the parish down?

In my 12 years of answering questions for the Catholic Herald, I never thought I would be answering so many questions about a world pandemic, but that is the reality of our world right now. We are all searching for answers. The other day, when I was talking to my sister about the many issues of the coronavirus, she said, “I wish someone would just tell us the truth about this pandemic.” My response was that we will not know the full truth until we are able to look back and learn from our lived experience. There are so many questions and so much uncertainty.

What we do know is that this is not the first world pandemic or socially transmitted disease. Epidemiologists and other scientists have studied past disease outbreaks and have concluded that simple measures such as mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing help to prevent the spread of a disease.

I hope and pray the scenario you described does not happen to you, but the reality is that this has indeed happened at a number of parishes within our archdiocese and around the country. The problem with this virus is that many people are asymptomatic and they live their life not knowing they are infected with the coronavirus. For this reason, people are asked to do everything they can to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, using hand sanitizer and practicing social distancing when they attend Mass.

Let me answer your very practical questions. If you attended Mass and within a two-week period after attending Mass discover you have tested positive, please notify the parish. Let them know the specific date and time you attended Mass. As an archdiocese, we have developed numerous protocols, trying to anticipate every possible scenario. Parishes are told that if a parishioner attends Mass and later discovers they have tested positive for COVID-19, parishes are to contact the local or county health department, and make a report with the specific date and time the parishioner attended Mass. It is essential the parish follow the instructions of the health department. If proper protocols of social distancing and mask wearing were followed, then most likely the parish will not need to shut down. The parish should also notify their parishioners of the specific date and Mass the person attended, without mentioning any names. This will help to make everyone aware of their possible exposure. Obviously, the parish will need to do a thorough cleaning of the building before Mass is celebrated again.

We live in very different times, where the world as we have known it has been turned upside down. Let us pray for an end to this coronavirus and for that to happen, we must all do our part.