Scientists told us that church services during the coronavirus pandemic are “a dangerous environment.” They said we couldn’t go to church, or we would risk killing our elderly neighbors.
That was likely true until we learned to wear masks and social distance. Now the evidence suggests that it is highly unlikely for the virus to spread during church services when safety practices are in place.
But even though the danger of infection at church services has dissipated, many governors continue to force churches to operate at a capacity well below a level where social distancing can be maintained.
When my church in Michigan transitioned from 25 percent capacity to 50 percent capacity, social distancing measures were easily upheld. Yet states like New Jersey and Illinois continue to limit churches to 25 percent of their capacity.
It’s yet another policy offending religious liberty, akin to the policies that kept churches shut down for months even after safety practices had largely been adopted (and many other venues had reopened).
Most egregiously, indoor church services remain forbidden in 43 counties in California. Only outdoor services of 12 people or less are permitted in those counties.
All the while, scientists and the media keep telling us the lie that we endanger ourselves and our neighbors when we go to church, scaring many people into avoiding services for months on end and many churches into keeping their services virtual even now.
“It’s an ideal setting for transmission,” said Carlos del Rio of church services last month. Rio is a global health expert at Emory University.
Also last month, Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California-San Francisco, said, “Churches and the types of gatherings churches represent provide a more dangerous environment.”
The New York Times went all in with a piece in July titled “Churches Emerge As Major Source of Coronavirus Infections.” The Times’ reporting uncovered more than 650 coronavirus infections linked to churches and religious events up until July 8. That number included 80 infections from a Christian summer camp and 60 infections from a choir practice in Seattle from before coronavirus cases surged in the United States.
That makes churches and religious events account for 0.02 percent of coronavirus infections recorded at that time. That is, infections from churches and religiously affiliated events are negligible.
Of course, that’s not the story they went with. The Times went with a story of gloom and doom, saying churches were grappling in July with “whether it is even possible to worship together safely.”
Last week, a report from three infectious disease experts challenged that narrative. The experts, who are part of the Thomistic Institute Working Group on Infectious Disease Protocols for Sacraments & Pastoral Care, are working alongside many Catholic bishops to develop and implement health guidelines for their dioceses.
The experts announced August 18 that based on their work with bishops and a survey of public health and media reports, they have found there to be zero cases of COVID-19 transmission linked to Catholic masses that followed proper protocols. Those protocols are wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing hands. The New York Times article does not cite any such cases at Catholic masses, either.
Over one million Catholic masses following safety guidelines have been celebrated in the United States since reopening after the lockdown, they said.
“While nothing during a pandemic is risk-free,” the experts at the Thomistic Institute said, “these guidelines mean that Catholics (and public officials) may be confident that it’s reasonably safe to come to Church for Mass and the sacraments.”
The experts include a former clinical infectious disease researcher for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute, a professor of medicine at Brown University specializing in infectious disease, and the medical director of Oregon Public Health Division’s Communicable Disease and Immunization programs.
In their report, published on RealClearScience, the experts said there have been many cases where a Catholic reported to their parish that they attended mass while infected with the virus. Still, contact tracing procedures and notices sent out to mass attendees found no transmissions linked to mass.
Additionally, many scientists and politicians warned that the distribution of Holy Communion would easily lead to the transmission of the virus, prompting one county in Maryland to forbid distributing food during services. No cases, however, have been linked to the Eucharist when practices were followed, the experts said.
When government officials say they are keeping church services heavily restricted to keep people safe, they are lying. Their pretenses don’t hold up anymore. Church is safe when people are six feet apart and wear masks.
At this point, extreme restrictions on religious services are just destroying people’s spiritual lives.