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Diocese seeks clarification on new state COVID-19 rules

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As Virginia prepares to lift social distancing requirements and crowd-size limits May 28, the Arlington diocese has asked Gov. Ralph Northam for clarification on how his administration’s latest guidelines should be interpreted by Catholics gathering for Mass and other religious occasions.

After the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for mask-wearing May 13, Northam rescinded the commonwealth’s universal indoor mask mandate in a May 14 announcement. He also indicated that distancing and capacity limits would ease later this month — two weeks earlier than expected. While the announcement noted that masks must continue to be worn in K-12 schools and other settings, it did not explicitly address religious gatherings, leading Bishop Michael F. Burbidge to ask state officials for guidance.

"We see the light here," the Bishop said May 17 on his "Walk Humbly Podcast." "We’re moving a step closer to getting back to normal."

Because the governor’s directives were not "entirely clear" about mask-wearing and other requirements in church settings, Bishop Burbidge said, "We are reaching out for clarity on that topic. It was clear that they need to be worn in schools, so that will be the case."

"We always have to read the orders and we will adjust accordingly," he added, noting that at the Mass he celebrated the previous weekend most worshippers wore masks.

Once the diocese hears back from government officials, Bishop Burbidge said he would confer with his reintegration advisers and advise parishes, schools and ministries how to respond.

He urged people to continue to pray for perseverance and patience and said, "Thank the good Lord, we’re heading in the right direction."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021