On pandemic church attendance

Back in the days of the anti-fracking battle in New York State, I wrote tons of comments to articles in the press. I still occasionally write a comment on a topic of interest. The following is a comment I submitted to an op-ed by Wilton Cardinal Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, DC, in The Washington Post, entitled “Praying apart isn’t the same as praying together. That’s why we sued D.C.” Because the article is behind a paywall, I will synopsize. Cardinal Gregory had sued the city of Washington, DC “to protect the free exercise of religion in the nation’s capital.” There had been a limit of fifty people in religious services, (which was subsequently eased by Mayor Muriel Bowser on December 16th). He pointed out that more than fifty people were allowed in stores and other venues.

My comment:
I am Catholic and someone who spent years in liturgical service as a musician and a liturgy planner. I was consistently attending mass on weekends and holy days, but I have not attended in person mass since mid-March, choosing instead to participate via televised or online services for safety’s sake.

I don’t think that restrictions on number of people in church attendance is at all an attempt to limit free exercise of religion. Being in church for a service is not like being in a store. In stores, people are mostly  silent, not near the same people for any length of time, and spending shorter amounts of time in an enclosed space. In churches, people are in one spot for an extended period, usually about an hour. They are speaking and singing; singing in particular is known to spread droplets much further than six feet. Masks do help prevent virus spread, but they do not do so 100%, so singing presents an additional risk.

Church attendance is more closely analogous to going to an indoor movie or concert. In my state, neither of those activities are allowed at all. Places of worship are allowed with restrictions on numbers in attendance. I think that rather than being overly restrictive, governments have been trying to help faith communities gather in person rather than being totally virtual in worship, while trying to keep risk relatively low.

The virus does not care whether people are in a store or a church or a home or a restaurant. It’s up to all of us to protect ourselves to the extent possible. When government officials are following science in their rules, we should accept that and not think that they are infringing on our rights rather than protecting public health.

today’s changes

When I wrote about covid-19 over the weekend, I assumed that things would continue to change.

I was correct.

Today, I learned the following:

  1. While visitors are still allowed in Paco’s independent living apartment building, they are no longer allowed in public areas, including the dining room. This means that our usual Sunday morning breakfast together won’t be possible, unless we order ahead and Paco goes to pick it up from the dining room.
  2. My hopes that the panic buying for groceries, medications, and household goods was just for Friday and over the weekend were dashed. It took three stores today to find a short list of items that Paco or my household needed. None of it was hoarding or earth-shatteringly necessary, but it was so strange to still see entire categories of foods unavailable.
  3. Stores are adjusting to the circumstances as best they can. Wegmans, where I usually do most of my shopping, has instituted limits on certain items, hoping to keep staples available for as much of the day as they can. They are usually open 24 hours a day, but are now closing between midnight and 6 AM to allow for more extensive re-stocking. Even with that, there was almost no fresh meat this morning and there were signs up saying they wouldn’t be getting a shipment until tomorrow afternoon.
  4. People must rely a lot on peanut butter, because it is very hard to find.
  5. France is reporting that over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may worsen covid-19 symptoms. They recommend other fever-reducing medications, such as acetaminophen.
  6. Starting at 8 PM today, all restaurants in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will be open only for takeout and delivery. Also, the new definition of allowable gathering size is 50. This will effectively close lots of businesses and organizations.
  7. Many of the closures are scheduled until end of March or mid-April, but many of us assume they will go on longer.
  8. I had thought that the United States national government had the most haphazard response to covid-19, but it appears the United Kingdom is also in the running for this dubious distinction. Because my daughter and her family are in London, we often exchange news. The UK is not even using social distancing as a strategy for the population at large. It’s mind-boggling and scary. [Update:  Right after I published this post, my daughter sent me a link showing that someone finally got through to Boris Johnson that he needs to change his strategy for the UK.]

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

(I will try to make my next post be about something cheerier.)