You’re Back to Mass, Then Someone Becomes Ill – Then What?

After months of social distancing and watching cases fall and rise repeatedly, you finally open your parish doors.

Extensive efforts have been made to ensure new procedures are in place to keep everyone safe during the welcome greeting, sign of peace, the collection(s), communion and dismissal. All is well. 

Then you get a call One of the parishioners at Mass on Sunday has tested positive for the Coronavirus. What do you do? Have you put a plan in place to handle this?

Here is some guidance on creating a plan for your parish:

  • Try to get as much info on the individual that tested positive.
    • Were they alone? 
    • Where did they sit? 
    • Did they use any facilities outside of the worship area? 
    • Where did they enter and exit? 
    • Did they have a mask on the entire time?
    • Did they join in communion, give an offering, linger after Mass or over coffee?
  • Notify your local health officials that someone diagnosed with COVID-19 has been in your facilities.
  • Communicate the news with all of your staff. Be sure to handle the individual’s information with discretion and privacy. 
  • Notify congregants of possible exposure. 
    • Individuals attending the same Mass should be made aware they could have been exposed. Indicate the area the individual sat, whether they had communion, entry and exit points, etc. 
    • Individuals attending a later Mass in the same facility should be notified of the incident along with your parish’s disinfecting procedures. They should self-determine whether or not to isolate.
  • Be sure to advise those who have been exposed to stay home and self-monitor for symptoms (fever, shortness of breath, cough, chills and other flu-like signs). They should follow the CDC, local and state guidelines.
  • Be sure to close off areas used by the sick person and do not use until after the area has been cleaned and disinfected. Remember all high touch points (pews, door handles, hymnals if out, etc).
  • All staff and/or congregants displaying mild symptoms should not return to the parish until they have met CDC guidelines:
    • Wait at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared AND
    • Showing no signs of fever for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing meds) AND
    • Noticeable improvement of symptoms.  
    • At this point you may choose to get retested to ensure the safety of others.
  • More severe cases may require retesting by a medical professional before interacting with others.

There is an abundance of information available on the virus and it is still evolving.

You may want to designate staff and volunteers to a COVID-19 task force. Have the task force review regulatory guidelines and make them responsible for creating and updating your parish’s policies regarding the virus. All questions, communications, and notifications can be handled by this group so responses are consistent and follow the policies. Recruiting individuals who are involved with similar responsibilities through their work may simplify this process. By designating this group, you will disperse the load and allow other staff and church leaders to focus on their ministry duties.

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