Have the flu? Atlanta archbishop urges ill Catholics to skip Mass and stay home

Feb 02, 2018
TAYLOR CARPENTER/taylor.carpenter@ajc.com
Archbishop Wilton Gregory, seen here on Good Friday 2016 at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. TAYLOR CARPENTER / TAYLOR.CARPENTER@AJC.COM

The flu season is especially bad this year, so severe local Catholic churches are encouraging parishioners stay home if they have the flu.

In a from Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta, being shared with local Catholic churches and parishioners, Gregory noted that many parts of the country, including Georgia, have been bit particularly hard by influenza this winter. He said they are closely monitoring the situation and “We will be in touch immediately if it seems appropriate to take more significant steps, such as temporarily suspending Communion from the chalice or on the tongue.”He went onto say anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms is recommended tonot attend Sunday Mass (or other parish activities), partake from the chalice or participate in the exchange of the Sign of Peace.

The possibility of infection with influenza represents a sufficient reason not to attend Sunday Mass, and obviates the Sunday obligation,” he said in the memo.

The memo went to pastors in the archdiocese, but some pastors shared it with their parishioners. Spokeswoman Paula Gwynn Grant said the archdiocese sent the memo as guidance following news reports about the severity of the flu and reports that some hospital emergency rooms were full. She said the archdiocese has not received any complaints about sick parishioners. “This was just being proactive,” she said.

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Click this link to check out the wait times: https://hospitals.myajc.com/ 

Retiree Delores Jean Brannan has been going to St. Anthony of Padua Church for more than five decades.

Lately, she’s noticed more parishioners are skipping sipping from the communion chalice. When people prepare to get the communion wafer, out comes the hand sanitizer. 

“I’ve never seen that before,” she said.

“I would not want someone sitting next to me who was coughing all the time,” Brannan said. “If you’re sick or have a cold, I think you should stay home.”

She said she recently joked during choir rehearsal that “we’ve got to stop doing the rite of peace for a while with all this flu going around,” she said. “This flu epidemic is rough.”

Dr. Hany Atallah stands inside a mobile emergency room set up outside Grady Memorial Hospital to help handle the ever-growing number of flu cases in Atlanta, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. The trailer, called Carolinas MED-1, has 14 beds and will sit outside the hospital's main emergency room for 30 days to alleviate wait times and bed shortages. It opens to patients the next day. Photo: AP Photo/David Goldman

When giving the sign of peace, many Catholics shake hands or hug those around them.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe recently issued the following guidelines for those concerned about the flu: 

  • Instead of shaking hands or hugging during the ‘Sign of Peace,’ just nod your head.
  • Fold your hands when praying the “Our Father” instead of holding hands.
  • Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion should wash their hands just before and after distribution of Holy Communion .
  • If you are sick, sneezing or coughing, it would be best for you to stay home. You are welcome to take advantage of the Sunday TV Masses which are available in English and Spanish. It is not a sin to miss Mass on Sundays if you are ill. 
  • The archdiocese said the directives will be “revoked when the situation improves.”

    Don Plummer, a spokesman for the Atlanta Episcopal Diocese, said no guidelines have been issues so far.

    “The culture in the Episcopal Church traditionally is that if you are sick “you dip the wafer into the wine, rather than take the wine directly from the cup.”

    Channel 2's Carl Willis reports. Photo: AP Photo/David Goldman

    The measures are unusual but not unheard of during severe flu seasons.

    The death toll continues to rise from flu-related deaths this season, and flu activity remains widespread in most of the country, including Georgia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

     "We have not hit our peak yet, unfortunately," said Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the CDC said Friday at a press conference. "Really, the bottom line is there is still likely many more weeks to go." 

    In Georgia, during the fourth week of the year which runs Jan. 21 through Jan. 27., there were 120 hospitalizations in metro Atlanta due to influenza, up from 115 hospitalizations during the previous week.

    There has also been a total of 51 confirmed influenza-related deaths in Georgia this flu season, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. That is up from a total of 25 last week. The 51 people includes the following: one child; 7 people between the ages of 18 and 51; 7 people between the ages of 51 and 64 and 36 people over the age of 65.

    The serious flu season has led to crowded local hospital emergency rooms and spot shortages of antiviral medications to fight flu, such as Tamiflu. Grady Memorial Hospital has added a temporary mobile ER to handle influxes of flu cases.