Empty holy water stoups, hand sanitizer at the alter, and peace offerings from a distance — these were just some of the precautions being taken at St. Patrick’s Cathedral during Sunday morning mass as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus, continues to grow in the city.
"We are trying to be very attentive and take some common sense approaches, as everybody is," said Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
Houses of worship across the five boroughs are adjusting some traditions during services in hopes of limiting potential spread of the virus.
As often happens during the winter months, many churches are suspending the drinking of wine during communion.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America removed scripture and liturgical books from pews, asking parishioners to bring their own, and recommending honors to religious icons and relics be done by bowing only, instead of kissing.
“We still want to keep our religious obligation,” said one New Yorker. “We know there is a problem with the virus. We just, you know, stay distance from other people. That is what we do as precaution.“
These precautions are not only being taken locally, but also in Vatican City, where Pope Francis did not give Sunday mass from the balcony of the Vatican like he normally does. Instead, it was live streamed to avoid large crowds from gathering.
"Not that he is afraid, but I guess anything we can do to keep the crowds down might be good," said Dolan.
Dolan says the Archdiocese of New York does not see a need to cancel masses as of yet and wants the church to be a place people can turn to.
"People tell us, ‘Thank God we can come to mass because when we are worried we want to pray,’" Dolan said.
Church officials say these measures are strictly precautionary and that they take similar steps during bad flu seasons. They encourage everyone to worship and attend services without hesitation, unless of course you are feeling sick.