Pastor offers picture of church, virus fight

Dear editor: 

I read with great interest your July 2 article “Virus cases traced back to local church.” It noted that positive cases had been reported among those who had recently been to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. I hope to provide here a more complete picture of the situation and especially St. John’s efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Like all other Catholic churches in Arkansas, St. John’s stopped gathering in mid-March. We resumed on May 17. On Friday, May 29, I was contacted by the Arkansas Department of Health because two parishioners had tested positive for Covid-19 and had been in church on May 24. These two parishioners are of the same family and live in the same house. 

I described our procedures to the ADH doctor who called: every other pew is blocked off; parishioners wear masks and maintain 6 feet of distance between families; use hand sanitizer on entering; and wipe down their pew with sanitizing wipes just before leaving. We also have signs up asking people to stay home if they have symptoms or have been in contact with someone who tested positive. In short, we follow every ADH guideline for places of worship. 

The ADH doctor said she believed our procedures were correct and that the risk of transmitting the virus under those conditions was low. Because our two positive cases were from the same family and considering our precautions, she believed it was unlikely that they had acquired the virus in church. 

After speaking with the ADH doctor, I called a few parishioners to start a “phone tree” and get the word out. Prior to everyone’s arrival the following Sunday, signs were placed on the door to inform any visitors that we had had a positive case. Those signs are still in place. 

On June 20, I got another call from ADH. This time they told me about someone who had been at church on June 6, two weeks prior. Because 14 days – widely believed to be the extent of the virus’s incubation period – had already passed and our sign was still up, I did not repeat the same notification process. 

All three cases were parishioners who had attended our Spanish-language Mass. All three either work at Butterball or live in a household with someone who does. After testing positive, all three stayed away from church until well after recovering and receiving letters from the Health Department clearing them to return to work. 

I pray for all who have been affected by the novel coronavirus, and I hope that articles like last week’s serve to strengthen our resolve to do everything necessary to stop the spread of Covid-19 – in our churches and in all of society. 

-Father Jason Tyler

Pastor, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Huntsville