Special Report- COVID-19, Office of Communications

March 5, 2020

MEMPHIS, TN — According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the novel (new) coronavirus, first detected in China in December, has now been detected in the U.S. and at least 36 other countries and territories. On January 20, in collaboration with the CDC, state and local health departments in the U.S. began identifying and monitoring all persons who have had close contact with patients confirmed to have “coronavirus disease 2019” (“COVID-19”), the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, now identified as SARS-CoV-2.

SARS-CoV-2 is a member of a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Though rare, people can become infected with animal coronaviruses and then spread the virus to other people. Like many of these viruses, SARS-CoV-2 originated in bats.

Many of the patients in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak was initially detected, had a common connection with a large seafood and live-animal market. Subsequent reports of the disease indicate that the virus was then being spread person-to-person in China and then in other countries.  The virus from patients in the U.S. is similar to the one that China initially detected, indicating that it emerged from the same animal reservoir.  

How does the virus spread?

The virus is thought to spread primarily from person to person, within six feet of proximity. Respiratory droplets are spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs. They land in the mouths or noses of others, and then are inhaled into their lungs. Although not thought to be the primary way, it may be possible to become infected by touching your mouth, nose or eyes after touching a surface that has the virus. Currently, there is no evidence that the virus is transmitted through food, but the normal safety practice of washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before handling food should be observed. According to the CDC, coronaviruses generally have poor survivability on surfaces, so there is low risk that the virus will spread from food products or packaging shipped over a period of days or weeks at room temperature or below. 

What are the symptoms of COVID-19? 

The CDC website, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html, provides extensive information about COVID-19 and the response of health professionals around the world.  Public awareness of the symptoms and how to report suspected cases is essential in mitigating the spread of the virus. COVID-19 can cause mild symptoms in some people but severe illness and death for others. 

Symptoms may appear two-14 days after exposure and include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

The CDC alert directs people to call their healthcare professional if they develop symptoms, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if they have recently traveled from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread of COVID-19. Check cdc.gov for a list of areas where the virus is widespread.

How can I protect myself from being infected with COVID-19?

Since a vaccine or drug is not currently available for preventing or treating COVID-19, the CDC recommends that individuals take action to prevent the spread of the disease. The CDC offers the following guidance: 

Practice everyday preventive actions now. Remind everyone in your household of the importance of practicing everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily (e.g., tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, and cabinet handles) using a regular household detergent and water.
    • If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent and water prior to disinfection. 
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.

What is the response from the Catholic Church?

On February 18, Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace; Sean Callahan, president of Catholic Relief Services; and Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, issued a joint statement regarding the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“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. . . .”

Archbishop Responds to COVID-19 Outbreak in Washington State 

In the U.S., Washington State is experiencing the most severe outbreak of COVID-19. Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle called on Catholics in the state to react with compassion and common sense. 

“Our response to this spreading virus must reflect how we, as disciples of Jesus, express our love of God and neighbor,” the archbishop 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.”

The archbishop urged Catholics to practice good hygiene, including frequent hand washing to prevent the spread of disease. He asked parishioners to stay home from Mass if they have cold or symptoms of other respiratory illnesses and to avoid hand-to-hand contact during the Our Father and the sign of peace.

The archbishop also announced that Communion hosts are to be received only in the hand, not on the tongue, and that the Precious Blood should not be distributed until further notice. In addition, all churches in the archdiocese have been directed to remove holy water from their fonts. 

The archbishop urged Catholics to pray for all those affected by the virus.

Prayer to St. Roch (patron of contagious illnesses)

O Blessed Saint Roch,
Patron of the sick,
Have pity on those
Who lie upon a bed of suffering.

Your power was so great
When you were in this world,
That by the sign of the Cross,
Many were healed of their diseases.

Now that you are in heaven,
Your power is not less.
Offer, then, to God
Our sighs and tears
And obtain for us that health we seek
Through Christ our Lord.


(Repeat the following 3 times)

Saint Roch, pray for us,
That we may be preserved
From all diseases of body and soul.

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