This document reflects the most recent guidance from the Diocese of Scranton regarding the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and steps our communities can take to help prevent its spread. The Diocese of Scranton will be updating this guidance in accordance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Pennsylvania Department of Health and local public health officials.
General Prevention and Preparedness
The health and safety of our parishioners, staff, students, families and clients that we serve are of paramount interest to the Diocese of Scranton. While there is much to learn about the coronavirus, based on what is currently known about the virus, spread from person-to-person happens most frequently among close contacts (within about six feet). Current evidence suggests that the coronavirus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made of a variety of materials.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic, because of its severity and the rapid rates at which it has spread. However, the WHO stressed that deliberate preventative actions can stop the virus from spreading.
We ask that all members of our parishes, schools and human/social service agencies assist with the prevention of spreading viruses by following the following recommendations:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
The Centers for Disease Control continues to update the Risk Level for each country. The Diocese of Scranton will continue to monitor this information and work to prevent this virus from spreading in our community. With that in mind, the Diocese of Scranton may require employees, students and/or families and clients that we serve who have been exposed to COVID-19 or are returning from countries designated as Risk Level 3 to remain home for 14 days upon returning to the United States or after contact with someone known to have or someone who may have been exposed to COVID-19. Those individuals will also be required to provide a notice from a healthcare professional that they are free from flu-like symptoms in order to return to work or school.
As of March 12, 2020, the CDC indicated the following risk levels related to COVID-19:
Level 3: China, Iran, Italy and South Korea
If you have travelled or are planning to travel to countries indicated with Risk Level 3, please contact your supervisor or principal to discuss plans for return to work or school.
During a news conference Thursday afternoon (3/12/20), Governor Tom Wolf encouraged religious leaders statewide to exercise discretion in order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and encouraged the suspension of large gatherings and events of 250 individuals or more. In the Diocese of Scranton, it is now strongly recommended that all non-essential parish and Diocesan events be temporarily cancelled or postponed.
Effective immediately (3/12/20), and until further notice, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, in union with the Bishops of Pennsylvania, has dispensed the faithful of the Diocese of Scranton from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. Despite the suspension of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, all regularly scheduled Masses will remain open to the public for those who wish to attend.
Masses continue to be offered at parish churches across the Diocese of Scranton and churches remain open.
It is important that Catholics use vigilance when deciding to attend Mass. If you are sick, especially with flu-like symptoms, you should stay home for your own well-being and that of others. If parishioners are sick or suspect they are sick with a contagious illness, they are not bound by the Sunday Mass obligation.
Elderly parishioners who are not sick, but are concerned about being in crowded spaces, are also not bound by the Sunday Mass obligation.
The faithful are strongly encouraged at this time to receive the Body of Christ (via the Sacred Host) in the hand, but the right of each individual to receive on the tongue, as guaranteed by the universal law of the Church, remains in place and is to be respected. This request is made in order to curtail the spread of germs to the communicant, the minister of Holy Communion and other communicants.
The faithful should refrain from the use of holy water upon entering and exiting our churches. Out of an abundance of caution, pastors should remove holy water from fonts in an effort to reduce the possible transmission of the virus.
Parishes should make proper provisions for persons with celiac disease who cannot digest the gluten in wheat hosts or have other sensitivities.
The distribution of the Precious Blood via the Chalice is temporarily suspended.
The Sign of Peace will now be exchanged without physical contact.
Priests, deacons and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should practice good hygiene, washing their hands before Mass begins or even using an alcohol based anti-bacterial solution before and after distributing Holy Communion.
At this time, all schools within the Diocese of Scranton remain open and under the most recent guidance from the Governor, we will not be holding mass gatherings – especially those with more than 250 attendees.
Plans for continued “distance learning” have been developed and teachers and administrators are prepared to distribute information to parents/students should the need arise.
The Diocesan School System is following the travel considerations listed above and may require students and families who have been exposed to COVID-19 or are returning from countries designated at Risk Level 3 to wait a full 14 days after arriving in the United States and have notice from a healthcare professional that they are free from flu-like symptoms in order to return to school and school functions.
The Diocesan School System continues to take additional precautions in an effort to protect our classrooms and shared areas from any viruses. Custodial staff from each school thoroughly clean our classrooms and common areas (including door handles, desks and cafeterias) daily with proper sanitary materials to minimize the spread of viruses. In order to support the prevention of viruses at all schools, we recommend that your child stay home from school if experiencing flu or cold symptoms. To decide whether or not to send your child to school, please consider the following guidelines, and keep your student home if they show any of the following:
- Fever‐greater than 100°F and your child should stay home until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever. This should be determined without the use of fever‐reducing medicines (any medicine that contains ibuprofen or acetaminophen).
- Vomiting (even once)
- General malaise or feelings of fatigue, discomfort, weakness or muscle aches
- Frequent congested (wet) or croup cough
- Lots of nasal congestion with frequent blowing of nose
In regards to parish faith formation programs, Catechists should remind students of proper handwashing techniques and coughing and sneezing etiquette.
If threat is moderate to severe, faith formation programs or other parish gatherings should be postponed or canceled. Parishes should follow the lead of their Diocesan school or local public school districts in canceling Religious Education classes.
Parish Religious Education programs should plan on offering remote or online learning if possible.
Catholic Human/Social Services
Catholic Human/Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton remains strongly committed to providing critical services to our brothers and sisters in need. In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Catholic Human/Social Services is working to ensure the safety and well-being of both our staff and the members of the community that we serve.
At this time, Catholic Human/Social Services is following all guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control Prevention and other agencies.
Proper cleaning and disinfection procedures are being followed at all kitchens, shelters and pantries under the operation of Catholic Human/Social Services.
At the kitchens, specific procedures are being followed each morning, which include cleaning bathrooms with professional cleaner, wiping down all surfaces with an all-purpose disinfectant, sweeping all floors and using a designated bleach mix and wiping down tables and work surfaces with an all-purpose disinfectant. After lunch and/or dinner service, similar sweeping, mopping and cleaning procedures are also followed in the dining room, kitchen area and dish room.
All volunteers and staff are being reminded of proper precautionary protocols, including urging individuals to stay home and limit their contact with others if they are sick and the importance of proper hand washing, especially when it comes to food preparation.
Catholic Human/Social Services is also following the previously mentioned CDC guidelines and recommendations for any staff members or volunteers who have travelled to a Risk Level 3 country.
All ongoing programs and large public events/gatherings are also being evaluated at this time.
Catholic Human/Social Services also has ongoing communication with its housing and residential facilities in regards to best practices/procedures.
Catholic Youth Center
All state regulations are being strictly followed. Any child with a fever will be immediately sent home. In addition, any student with a fever will immediately be isolated from other children.
Parents have been provided information on the coronavirus and are instructed not to bring their child to the Catholic Youth Center if their child displays any of the symptoms.
Staff members have been told to stay home if they have any symptoms of the coronavirus or flu-like symptoms.
Toys and classroom items that children use during the day are normally cleaned/disinfected multiple times during the day. The importance of this procedure has been reinforced with staff and additional time has been given to each teacher’s schedule to stay after their shift to give the classroom a thorough cleaning and disinfection once the room is empty.
As per existing policy, all children and staff wash their hands multiple times during the day. All children must wash their hands upon arrival, prior to-and-after meals, after outdoor play time and before/after naps. Children typically wash their hands at a minimum of five times per day.
Staff members have also been instructed to wash their hands often during the day.
All hand rails and door handles will be disinfected after high traffic periods. Approximate times for this disinfection each day is 9:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Hand sanitizer stations will be placed at both entrances and at the entrance to every classroom as soon as possible. Staff members are working with Cintas to provide the dispensers and sanitizer.