An ecumenical coalition of churches in Ireland called on those attending in-person worship to wear face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Leaders representing the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Methodist Church in Ireland issued the statement on Wednesday. The church leaders noted that while neither the Republic of Ireland nor Northern Ireland have mandated face masks, they said it is “our responsibility to ensure that our services of worship are safe places for all who join with us.”
“It has become increasingly clear that the wearing of face coverings, in conjunction with hand washing etc., is likely to reduce the spread of coronavirus, thus helping to protect others,” they stated.
“Their use is therefore one way in which we can evidence protection for the most vulnerable, support for our health workers, and practical love for our neighbours.”
The church leaders went on to say that they “join with Christian church leaders all over this island in formally recommending and encouraging the use of face coverings at all services of worship, along with the ongoing maintenance of 2 metre physical distancing.”
This comes while recognizing that “some people are exempted from the wearing of face coverings” and that “it may not be appropriate for those who are leading from the front during worship, including preaching, to wear face coverings.”
They advised that worship leaders maintain a distance of four meters from the closest row of the congregation.
Signatories of the joint statement include the Most Rev. Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh; the Most Rev. John McDowell, Archbishop of Armagh for the Church of Ireland; the Rt. Rev. David Bruce, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; and the Rev. Tom McKnight, president of the Methodist Church in Ireland.
Ireland has recorded over 27,000 cases of COVID-19 so far and 1,775 deaths. A recent rise in cases has forced the country to revert back to restrictions such as reducing crowd sizes indoors and outdoors.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, churches across the world that are holding in-person services have taken various measures to curb infections among attendees. tThese have included spacing out attendees, requiring face masks, barring handshakes, encouraging ill members to stay home, and including extra hand sanitizer.
RealClearScience published a report on Wednesday indicating that social distancing measures among Catholic churches in the United States were working in reducing infections.
“With approximately 17,000 parishes in America typically holding three or more weekend masses — and a greater number of daily masses — for the last 14 or more weeks — over one million public masses have been celebrated following guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus: in sum, follow the three W’s — watch your distance, wear your mask, and wash your hands,” noted the report.
“The Good News: for Catholic churches following these guidelines, no outbreaks of COVID-19 have been linked to church attendance, even though we have examples … of asymptomatic, unknowingly infected individuals attending mass and other parish functions.”
The researchers explained that they “found no evidence of viral transmission” among those who attended Mass that “could have led to an outbreak if appropriate precautions were not followed.”
“We also reviewed recent public health and media reports regarding COVID-19 dissemination and found no reports of disease transmission, let alone outbreaks, in a Catholic church following such guidelines,” they added.
They also cited cases from the Archdiocese of Seattle where COVID-19-positive individuals participated in events such as a funeral and Mass but did not spread the virus to others as they followed safety guidelines (wearing masks and maintaining six feet of distance from others).