FORT SMITH -- Two Fort Smith churches notified parishioners May 25 that a parishioner who had been in attendance at Mass the week before later tested positive for COVID-19.
Christ the King and St. Boniface churches said a parishioner attended both St. Boniface’s 8 a.m. and Christ the King’s 1:30 p.m. Masses May 17 in Spanish.
Acting in conjunction, Fathers Juan Guido, Christ the King pastor, and Mario Jacobo, St. Boniface pastor, made a decision for all staff members to self-quarantine and to close their offices and suspend weekday Masses through May 30.
Both parishes hosted Masses on a limited basis May 16-17 and May 23-24.
After learning that one of their parishioners had been diagnosed with the virus May 25, the two pastors consulted with Bishop Anthony B. Taylor and the Arkansas Department of Health for guidance on reopening. Because both churches had followed guidelines from the state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Diocese of Little Rock, the Department of Health reassured them that the risk of infection was low.
Taking additional precautions, both churches will continue with public Masses Pentecost weekend, May 30-31. The sanctuaries will be cleaned and sanitized during the week and between each Mass, and Bishop Taylor’s guidelines, including using hand sanitizer when entering and leaving the church, wearing a mask if older than 10 years old and social distancing of 6 feet or more between family groups, will continue to be followed.
Both churches will continue to livestream Masses for those who are at risk due to age, illness or disability.
“While the offices are closed, staff members will work from home and return to work, God willing, on June 1,” Father Jacobo said.
Father Guido advised anyone who developed symptoms of the virus who had attended either of the May 17 Spanish Masses to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and call the Department of Health’s COVID-19 hotline at (800) 632-4502.
Father Jacobo asked parishioners to continue to pray “for all who are facing this invisible enemy, for an end to this pandemic, especially for this individual and for all who are afraid to ask for help and remain in the dark.”
Sebastian County has had a low infection rate, with only 22 diagnosed patients, 16 recovered, and no deaths as of May 27, but the county is taking steps to greatly increase testing. River Valley Primary Care partnered with Gov. Asa Hutchinson to do 60,000 tests by May 31 and offered a free drive-thru testing in late May in the parking lot of Community Bible Church at the intersection of Dallas and 92nd streets in Fort Smith. The test was made available to everyone, regardless of symptoms, with no out-of-pocket cost.
Christ the King and St. Boniface churches are incorporating many ways to keep parishioners informed during the health crisis. Christ the King invites its members to sign up for text alerts. Notices will be posted on its website at ctkparishfs.com and Facebook page.
In a follow-up message May 26, the pastors wrote that they understood parishioners’ apprehension. “Each parishioner and family will have to decide their comfort level with attending Mass at our churches until the current pandemic is behind us. Let us keep in mind that the Lord is with us at all times and may it help us as we go forward to place our trust in him.”
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