The rules were simple: No handshakes. No hugging. And no drinking from the cup at Holy Communion.
Those were the safety precautions being taken at Holy Family Catholic Church in Yakima in effort to prevent any possible spread of the new coronavirus.
But by Friday, even those weren’t enough.
Bishop Joseph Tyson of the Catholic Diocese of Yakima, in response to Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide ban on gatherings of 250 people or more, canceled public Masses.
Tyson “has granted a dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for all parishioners of the Diocese of Yakima, and all travelers within the boundaries of the Diocese on Sundays,” according to a news release from the diocese Friday evening.
The bishop also “suspended indefinitely the public celebration of all Masses in the Diocese of Yakima.”
As of Friday, the coronavirus had spread through 15 counties, adding up to at least 569 confirmed cases — three in Yakima County — and at least 37 deaths. King County had 328 confirmed cases and 32 deaths. Snohomish County had 133 confirmed cases and four deaths. Pierce County had 19 confirmed cases. Grant County had one case and one death.
In addition to the confirmed cases in Yakima County, 10 people are in isolation and four have voluntarily quarantined themselves while awaiting test results.
In hopes of preventing further spread of the COVID-19 virus, organizations and government agencies are taking precautionary measures.
Yakima County officials declared a state of emergency Thursday. On Friday, Inslee ordered all public and private schools in Washington state to close for six weeks in an effort to prevent the continued spread of COVID-19.
He also prohibited gatherings of more than 250 people.
Faith communities are taking their own measures to slow or prevent spread of the virus. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has temporarily suspended all church events worldwide. In Washington, the Right Rev. Gretchen M. Rehberg, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane, urged congregations to suspend public worship for three weeks, with plans to re-evaluate after March 31.
She also canceled all diocesan-sponsored meetings and events and asked congregations and committees to limit in-person meetings. “Funerals and other services may be held as deemed appropriate,” Rehberg said in an email.
Events and meetings scheduled beyond April 4 have not been cancelled, she added.
Some individual churches are deciding to cancel services, such as Grace of Christ Presbyterian Church in Yakima. Leaders on Friday announced services for this Sunday have been canceled.
Other churches made modifications.
At noon Mass Wednesday at Holy Family Catholic Church in west Yakima, more than 30 parishioners made their way to the front of cathedral to partake in Communion.
Pastor César Vega placed the Eucharist in the hands, rather than the mouths, of parishioners and there was no drinking from the chalice.
Smiles, nods and elbow bumps replaced hugs and handshakes during the service.
Holy water has been removed. The church had provided parishioners with a list of the guidelines that remain in place until further notice. Priests and deacons will bless water brought in by parishioners, the guidelines said.
Parishioners were asked to stay home if sick.
Jean Bongers, Linda Layton and Jackie Davis gathered briefly in the church’s foyer after the service. They said they thought the guidelines were good.
“These measures can help,” Bongers said.
But they hoped the precautions and news of the virus didn’t spread unwarranted fear into the community.
“It’s the panic that worries me,” Davis said.
Even as Tyson canceled public Masses, the diocese asked pastors to open churches for private prayer, Eucharistic adoration and private confessions “all following proper hygiene conditions.”
Central Lutheran Church also made adjustments during the week.
The Rev. Carolyn Hellerich is the only one to touch the wafers that represent the body of Christ to parishioners during Communion.
The wafers are placed in their hands and they drink from prefilled wine cups, Hellerich said.
Holy water there was removed from the church, too.
“The feeling is that the same little bowl of water and a hundred fingers in it isn’t a good idea,” she said.
The church also encourages members to nod and smile rather than holding or shaking hands.
Refraining for handshakes is difficult, she said.
“It’s autopilot behavior with people when they’re happy to see each other,” Hellerich said.
She places her hands behind her back when at the door as parishioners are leaving to avoid reaching out.
“Because if I don’t, I’ll stick my hand out there and they’ll stick their hand out there because it’s automatic,” Hellerich said.
Services at Central Lutheran Church can be viewed online at clcyakima.org for those who stay home.