This winter’s flu outbreak, considered by many to be one of the worst in years, is having an effect on Catholic parishes and schools.

Mother of Good Counsel School, 3001 N. 68th St., Milwaukee, closed for the last three days of last week (Feb. 7-9) when illness reached 30 percent of the student body.

According to a letter sent home from Principal Regina Shaw, there had been very little effect on the school’s students until Tuesday, Feb. 6, when 22 percent of them missed class time due to illness.

“For us to have 64 sick children, in addition to several faculty/staff members, makes it very difficult for us to carry on with the business of school,” Shaw wrote.

After consulting with the Milwaukee Health Department and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Shaw made the decision to close school for three days, two of which were scheduled for 11:30 a.m. dismissal and one of them (Friday, Feb. 9) would have likely been knocked out anyway because of a winter storm that caused a crush of school cancellations in southeastern Wisconsin.

The school’s Mardi Gras celebration (originally scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 13) was postponed until after Easter, and parent-teacher conferences have also been rescheduled.

“We will have people in here over the next few days to disinfect our building,” Shaw wrote in the letter to parents. “That, plus the passage of time, should help to stop the spread of this nasty virus.”

The “nasty virus” has caused some parishioners to be wary of taking the communal chalice during Communion. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is leaving the decision on how to handle the flu outbreak to individual parishes and Catholics.

The USCCB’s guidance on the issue says that priests, deacons and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should be reminded of the need to practice good hygiene, including washing hands before Mass and using an alcohol-based anti-bacterial solution before distributing Holy Communion. The USCCB’s website says, “The faithful should be instructed not to receive from the chalice if they feel ill.”

The USCCB gives local diocesan bishops latitude in deciding whether to adopt changes to the liturgy to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. It further says the need for widespread liturgical adaptations are not needed at this time.