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COVID update: Holy Communion can resume at N.H. churches – within limits

  • Concord Monitor—Courtesy

  • Father Ray Ball of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Concord at one of the Stations of the Cross during a devotion service for Good Friday on April 19, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • A family is silhouetted against the stained glass window depicting Mary, the mother of Jesus, as they follow the devotion service of the Stations of the Cross at the Good Friday services at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church on Loudon Road on Friday, April 19, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

Published: 5/20/2020 7:37:05 AM

Catholic churches can resume giving Holy Communion in person this weekend, although it will be a COVID-style blessing.

“People will come in one door and exit another door. They’ll wear a mask – I’ll also be wearing a mask,” said Father Ray Ball of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church on Loudon Road. “The doors will be open so they don’t have to touch handles. … And there’s no congregating in the church.”

Immaculate Heart of Mary Church will hold communion from 11 to 11:45 a.m. on Sunday, after its online Mass which starts at 9:30. “We’ll see how it goes,” said Father Ball.

At Christ the King Church on South  Main Street, details are still being worked out. “We’re in the process of trying to determine the procedure,” said Kathy Planchett, church secretary.

Bishop Peter Libasci of the Diocese of Manchester issued a letter to the faithful Tuesday saying that the state’s Catholic churches must begin offering Holy Communion by the end of the month, with the option of beginning this weekend.

“For some time now, I have been working with our regional Deans and others on the development of plans for the resumption of the public celebration of Mass, and this interim measure, which has been generated from that process, is intended to allow for the reception of the Eucharist pending the resumption of public Masses,” he wrote.

Details are left up to each church for how to hold the ceremony safely and within the state’s guidelines limiting gatherings of people.

“I am very hopeful that we will have public liturgies available soon, even if they will inevitably come with modifications. In the meantime, priests continue to celebrate Holy Mass privately, and to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation to individuals. Churches continue to remain open for private individual prayer at designated times as previously directed. My dispensation from the obligation to attend Holy Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation remains in effect,” Bishop Libasci wrote.

New testing eligibility

New Hampshire is once again relaxing the requirements necessary to receive a COVID-19 test, the state Department of Health and Human Services commissioner said Wednesday.

Starting Wednesday, anyone who lives in the same household as someone who is eligible for a test because of a risk may also receive a test, DHHS head Lori Shibinette said.

That includes anyone living with someone who is 60; has one or more COVID-19 symptoms, such as coughing, shortness of breath, fever, chills, and loss of taste or smell; has an underlying health condition that could make the respiratory disease worse; or is a front line health care worker. 

Anyone in those categories may still receive tests as well. 

Residents can sign up for a testing slot online at nh.gov. 

The state will expand the number of fixed testing sites around the state to nine starting this Sunday, adding new locations in Keene and Londonderry. That list includes Concord, which features a testing site on Stickney Avenue near the transit station. 

The numbers

The state reported 149 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the total for the pandemic to 3,868.

Fifty-one of the new cases occurred at a single long-term care facility: Villa Crest Nursing and Retirement Center, Shibinette said Wednesday. Those numbers came out after the state carried out mass testing of the facility, she added. 

And the state recorded eight new deaths due to the virus, six of which were at long term care facilities. The deaths now total 190; about 5% of recorded cases have led to death, Shibinette says. 

At the same time, the number of new cases continues to decline slowly and the percentage of tests which are positive has declined to about 3%. That latter figure is often used to judge the prevalence of an infectious disease in a community; figures below 10% are seen as a sign that it is not spreading very much, although the conclusion depends on the extent and type of testing.

The state's hospitalization rate of cases has stayed steady at around 10% of overall cases for several weeks, Shibinette said.

The number of PCR tests, which can detect if a person is currently sick, have averaged more than 2,000 a day for  a w eek. More than 600 antibody tests, which can detect if a person has been sick in the past, are being conducted in the state, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Rural testing

New Hampshire health clinics are getting nearly $700,000 to expand testing in rural communities.

The money from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can be used for planning a testing program program, purchasing supplies, training providers and reporting data on testing activities. It can also be used to build temporary structures or retrofitting existing facilities.

Fourteen clinics in the state will receive the funding.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.)




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