The Archdiocese of Washington issued the following statement on the coronavirus on Feb. 28, 2020. The guidance expressed in this statement is excerpted from a letter to parishes that day. The archdiocese's statement follows a recent statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on a Catholic response to the outbreak.

Here is the text of the Archdiocese of Washington's statement:

“Pastors may wish to remind their parishioners, in whatever manner is appropriate within Mass, no one is ever under an obligation to shake hands during the Sign of Peace (a statement of peace, bow or other gesture is appropriate) or to receive from the chalice. Christ is fully present in each species when the bread and wine have been consecrated into His Body and Blood. 

“Pastors may also wish to remind their parishioners they can receive the Body of Christ in the hand instead of on the tongue. It is up to the discretion of the pastor, if there is great alarm at this time, you may also consider discontinuing - temporarily - the practice of offering Communion under the form of Precious Blood, as well as to take other precautions you deem necessary. 

“Further, anyone who is ill, or suspects he or she is ill, should refrain from receiving from the chalice out of good will, or if warranted, refrain from participation in public activities, including Mass. If you need to refrain from Sunday Mass, you are dispensed from the Sunday obligation.”

The Archdiocese of Washington's statement concluded by noting, “We are continually monitoring the situation with an interdisciplinary team, including health professionals. We will inform you if further guidance on precautions should be considered.”

On Feb. 18, , Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace; Sean Callahan, president of Catholic Relief Services; and Sister Mary Haddad, a Religious Sister of Mercy who serves as president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, issued a statement addressing the Catholic response to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Their joint statement follows:

“As communities and public health officials respond to the outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in China and closely monitor its presence and progression in other parts of the world, we join in solidarity and prayer for those impacted or working to treat those infected by the disease. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, and the Catholic Health Association of the United States hope that governments will work together in partnership to improve all nations’ capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to this virus.

“The Catholic Church in the United States stands in solidarity with those affected by the coronavirus and their families, health workers who are valiantly trying to diagnose and treat patients, and those under quarantine awaiting results of their screening for the virus. We offer our prayers for healing and support those organizations, both domestic and international, working to provide medical supplies and assistance to address this serious risk to public health.

“In early February, the Holy See sent 700,000 respiratory masks to China to help prevent the spread of the disease. Within the United States, Catholic healthcare providers are at the front line of providing treatment and care to those impacted by the virus. 

“We also commend the U.S. government for transporting more than 17 tons of donated medical supplies to China. This response to the novel coronavirus demonstrates the critical importance of the need to work together and to invest in crucial health care systems here and in other countries, thus preventing and responding to community-wide emergencies. We urge the U.S. Congress to support these efforts by protecting access to domestic health care safety net programs and by providing additional emergency international assistance to areas impacted by the virus.

“We also urge individuals to stay informed as information becomes available by going to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.” 

(Editor's note: As of Feb. 28, no cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in the Washington, D.C., area.)