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Some Catholic churches could re-open as early as Saturday; but archdiocese says dispensation from physical Mass attendance will continue

The Archdiocese of Boston announced this morning that parishes that take certain steps could re-open for Masses as early as Saturday evening.

Parishes will have to ask permission from higher authorities - and prove they have taken steps to minimize, if not entirely eliminate, the risk their members will spread or contract Covid-19.

Parishes should not resume Masses before they are ready, and the decision to delay the resumption of Masses until May 31 may very well be the best decision for a parish.

Also, the archdiocese's Office of Risk Management advises:

SOME COMMUNITIES, INCLUDING THE CITIES OF BOSTON AND SOMERVILLE, MAY HAVE LOCAL MUNICIPAL ORDERS THAT ARE STRICTER THAN THOSE OF THE STATE, AND THOSE MUST BE RESPECTED.

The advisory continues:

The dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation will continue for the foreseeable future.

Cardinal Seán strongly encourages people in vulnerable populations, especially the elderly and those with complicating physical conditions, to continue to watch Mass from their homes, on their parish’s social media or on CatholicTV.

Parishes need to have a way of limiting the number of people who come into the church. A viable option may be to make use of a registration package like SignUpGenius or EventBrite. Signing up by phone or email should also be an option.

No matter what option a parish chooses, the pastor must be able to ensure that the size of the congregation in the church is not more than 40% of capacity and not more than the church can fit with social distancing maintained.

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Comments

also in the same document:

Choirs will not be allowed.

Congregational singing will not be allowed in these early days. Fully respectful of the very important role that music plays in our liturgies, and also respectful of the public health concerns, the congregation should be instructed not to sing, either by announcement or by signs. There can be a cantor and an instrumentalist, who would provide music during the Mass (perhaps limited to the psalm, the Mass parts, and a song at Communion).

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A general prohibition on singing seems odd. What's the difference between me singing and me responding to a prayer?

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Maybe projecting voice in song is more aspirant? Chance of projecting droplets?

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when they go to church anyway? Won't that help keep any singing droplets from splashing anyone?

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Yes, the guidance is to wear masks. Perhaps part of the singing restrictions is to avoid people who would have to remove mask (or think that they need to remove mask) in order to sing?
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Secondary consideration- besides reducing transmission risk, things like less singing, no handshakes at sign of peace, no passing the basket will reduce the length of the Mass. Useful for parishes trying to have multiple Masses that now need to program cleaning time in-between.

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If breathing and brief speaking is a garden hose, singing is a fire hose. A mask can only do so much, especially as it becomes more saturated with moisture from your breath. Singing would accelerate and amplify the process.

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Shouldn't everyone be wearing masks when they go to church anyway? Won't that help keep any singing droplets from splashing anyone?

Yes, masks help reduce virus spread

Note that "help reduce" is not synonymous with "absolutely stop"

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A choir decided to go ahead with rehearsal. Now dozens of members have COVID-19 and two are dead.

(They didn't do anything obviously wrong at the time. Nobody had symptoms and they complied with all rules then in effect.)

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That's the one @Ron Newman. The absolute reason not to have a choir yet.

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In addition to the above, singing involves sustained deep breathing in ways that speech does not.

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Wouldn't the same be said for joggers? They pass me daily without masks. Some are quite close as they pass by.

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They're jogging in a small room while you jog alongside them for the equivalent of several hymns.

Maskless, spitting joggers are annoying as all hell perhaps, but they're doing their gross things outdoors, where there are large volumes of air to carry the virus away from you and, often, even in New England, copious amounts of sunlight to kill the virus. It's a different situation in a semi-closed indoor room.

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people can spread the virus by speaking, singing, and whistling, or whatever.

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I started looking into this after the Skagit Valley Choir tragedy a few months back. If you remember, this was toward the beginning of the pandemic, and we didn't have a great handle on transmission mechanisms. At that point, most of the recommendations we had were based on preventing contact transmission. We were thinking of this as primarily being transmitted by someone coughing on a surface, then someone else touching the surface and then touching their face. (Which, let's be clear, IS a transmission method and something to watch out for.) In that incident, a community choir chose to get together for practice, but follow all the safety precautions being recommended at that time.

Of the sixty-one people there, forty-five got sick with COVID-19, and three died.

One of the articles about that referenced a 1960s study on tuberculosis transmission.
Basically, there is no human activity more ideally suited to spreading an airborne respiratory illness than singing in groups. It looks like one thing that COVID-19 does is hang out in your lungs, and wait to be expelled out into the air, where it hangs around in droplets, then it can fall on a surface and do that contact stuff talked about above, or just be breathed in directly.

And no human activity is better at moving air out of the lungs and into the air than singing is. Singing is better than breathing. Better than speaking. Better than shouting. Even better than coughing. Singing is the literal absolute most effective way an asymptomatic carrier of SARS-CoV-2 can move the maximum amount of virus into the environment.

At the same time, if you're singing in groups, the person next to them is breathing in just as effectively as the infectious person is breathing out.

Besides the Skagit Valley event, there was a similar event at a celebration the Living Spirit Universal Life Church in Calgary in Canada -- 41 people, 25 infections, 2 deaths -- at a church in Georgia, and at a church in West Virginia, where I couldn't find the actual numbers, because nobody tracked the numbers, because West Virginia didn't have the tests at the time.

But, in general, it looks like, if churches open under the same precautions that are being suggested here, and involve congregational singing, even with six foot social distancing, about one in twenty people will die. We can hope that other plans might reduce the risk further, but, all in all, it seems like a really dumb gamble to take.

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Basically, there is no human activity more ideally suited to spreading an airborne respiratory illness than singing in groups.

Quite probably so.
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...though I'd play it safe and decline any (unlikely) invitations for rugby, greco-roman wrestling, or communal saunas for the next few months.

...might be good time to sign up for that refresher course in hands-only CPR.

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It's idiotic for the State of Massachusetts to begin by opening up the beaches for Memorial Day weekend, especially because there'll be huge crowds and no social distancing.

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