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Coronavirus round-up: what you should know, and how you can help

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Nearly everyone in the country has been impacted by the coronavirus, including Father David A. Whitestone, pastor of St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax. Last Saturday, he was outside his local Safeway before dawn waiting for latest shipment of a much-needed commodity — antibacterial hand sanitizer.  When the doors opened at 6 a.m. and the shelves were restocked, he bought the max allowed: four 2 ounce bottles. He quickly called parochial vicar Father Thomas Nguyen to come and buy a few more. 

St. Leo has three restrooms in the church, so before the health crisis hit, the community relied on running water and good quality soap to keep their hands clean. Hand sanitizer was only found in the sacristy for the clergy and extraordinary minsters of holy Communion. Now, among several other precautions the parish is taking, hand sanitizer is found at the entrances. 

During his homily that Sunday, Father Whitestone mentioned his difficulty in obtaining enough sanitizer for the parish. Soon enough, he had what he needed. “Parishioners responded so tremendously by giving us their own supply so that we would have enough for other people and ourselves,” he said. Though sanitizer is in short supply, the bottles haven’t been removed from the church. “It's a good sign that people are cooperating and not taking advantage of the situation,” he said. “So far (among the parish), it seems like there’s a positive spirit. We’re going to work together and do what’s best.”

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Though many large parish events and conferences have been canceled, Masses will be celebrated this weekend, according to Bishop Michael F. Burbidge. Several precautions have been put in place to ensure the health and safety of Massgoers, including the suspension of the sign of peace, the removal of holy water and the suspension of the common chalice. 

Bishop Burbidge granted a dispensation from attending Mass to vulnerable populations —“those who are 60 years old or older, have chronic illness, or immune system deficiencies, as well as those who care for a person with such a condition, and individuals with grave concerns about being in public gatherings,” according to the diocesan website. There are several options for people who would like to watch a televised Mass. (See info box.) St. James Church in Falls Church is exploring livestreaming weekend Masses.

As the number of cases of coronavirus continues to rise, counties, companies, school districts and other entities are evaluating how best to prevent the spread of disease. Marymount University in Arlington extended its spring break by two days and plans to shift to online classes until at least March 30. 

Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic School Joseph Vorbach announced to principals that diocesan schools will follow the closures of their local public school authorities. As of March 13, schools in Fairfax County, Loudoun County and Fredericksburg City are closed, and Arlington County and Falls Church City plans to close schools March 16 through April 16. Other districts are preparing for online learning. 

The Archdiocese of Washington announced March 12 that Masses open to the public in all archdiocesan parishes, missions and campus ministries are canceled until further notice. All Catholic schools in the archdiocese will be closed from March 16-27. Employees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are working remotely.

In response to school closures, diocesan Catholic Charities St. Lucy Project is gearing up to feed school children without access to free school lunches. Vince Cannava, program director of the St. Lucy Project, is requesting people donate money or nutritious, kid-friendly food. 

“We’re trying to stay a step or two ahead so that we can get people taken care of and take care of our volunteers, especially since most of them are elderly. We could use younger volunteers to augment the elderly volunteers who have been faithfully helping. Call your local pantry,” said Cannava. 

In addition to common sense measures such as frequently wiping down surfaces, pantry distribution techniques may change as well. “In extreme cases, we’ll stop the client shopping and we’ll have the volunteers in the back of the facility make boxes of food. Then we would go to the exit door and hand out the food in a box or a bag until danger is over,” he said.

Related: Diocesan statement on prevention and response to the coronavirus

The Paul Stefan Home, an organization that runs residences for mothers and children in Orange and Unionville, is requesting supplies and monetary donations. “We believe the best way to be prepared is to have a two-month supply of certain items on hand in case they become unavailable such as formula, feminine hygiene pads, hand sanitizer and toilet paper,” the organization said in an email. 

In a special edition of his “Walk Humbly Podcast,” Bishop Burbidge asked the faithful to use this time to grow closer to God. “None of us wanted our schedules to be freed up, certainly (not) in this way, but use (this) time in a productive way for yourself, for your relationship with the Lord, and in help to others,” he said.

“When there is stress or panic in the world, we have to be signs of faith. If our faith is strong and we believe in God’s goodness and power, we should reflect in the midst of this crisis our own sense of confidence and serenity. As we’re reminded in sacred Scripture, we should always be ready to explain the reason for our hope and that hope is in the Lord.”

Download the prayer cards

Prayer to Jesus for healing and guidance

Oración a Jesús para pedir sanación y guía

Watch a televised Mass

Watch the weekly televised Mass from the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Sunday from 10:30 - 11 a.m. on WDCW-50. Beginning March 15, watch the basilica’s Sunday Mass at noon via livestream at nationalshrine.org/mass. Watch the daily Mass from EWTN at ewtn.com/tv/watch-live/united-states

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