Coronavirus concern: How churches are adapting services to combat the spread

Places of worship across the United States are taking measures in response to the coronavirus outbreak, including deviating from traditional religious practices to prevent infections.

Archbishop Paul Etienne of Seattle, where there have been more than 30 confirmed cases and at least 10 deaths, said wine should not be distributed during Communion and churchgoers should receive the Communion wafer in their hands instead of on their tongues.

“Our response to this spreading virus must reflect how we, as disciples of Jesus, express our love of God and neighbor,” Eitenne wrote in a March 2 letter to parish leaders. “In caring for all members of our community — especially the elderly and the vulnerable — we are carrying out the mission of the church.”


Other churches across the country are doing the same.

The Catholic Archdiocese in Chicago ordered its priests to suspend give wine from a chalice, in addition to ordering their personnel to wash their hands before Mass and to use antibacterial solutions before and after Communion, according to a statement on its website.

“How we receive, while very personal to the individual communicant, is not crucial,” said Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, N.M., who ordered his priests to place the Communion wafer on the recipient's hand. “Receiving Communion in the hand is every bit as respectful as receiving on the tongue.

The diocese also told priests to assure parishioners that it's OK to stay home if they are feeling sick.

Other dioceses are giving their priests the discretion to implement other measures. New guidances are also being ordered across churches in Boston, Atlanta and parts of New Jersey.


The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland in Ohio suggested that parishioners should be encouraged to wash their hands and use hand sanitizer after shaking hands and that sick members should stay home.

Sally Hiller, a Virginia-based deaconess with Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, wrote a letter to colleagues with suggestions for worship services.

“Consider putting smaller bottles of hand sanitizer in each pew,” she wrote. ”As you greet one another or exchange greetings during the sharing of peace, consider a simple head bow, a wave, or a fist bump.”

The Hindu Temple and Cultural Center in the Seattle suburb of Bothell canceled worship services and large gatherings and will only allow individual worshippers inside for an hour each evening.

A St. Paul, Minn., minister put Purell into each person's hand Sunday while they lined up for communion. In other churches, churchgoers have been asked to not shake hands, and a New York church recommended fist-bumping as an alternative.


Around the world, other faiths are reacting to the spread of the virus as well. On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia banned its citizens and residents from making the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. Iran canceled Friday prayer in major cities.

The Diocese in Rome is asking members to omit handshakes or close embracing.

Fox News' Caleb Parke and The Associated Press contributed to this report.