Catholic Sun staff reports
Bishop Douglas J. Lucia Nov. 27 reaffirmed directives limiting the number of attendees permitted at Masses celebrated in the “orange zone.”
Amid spiking numbers of COVID-19 cases throughout New York state, hospitalizations are stretching health care systems, there is “concern in the medical community where such numbers are leading and local government officials facing a deluge of cases have admitted they cannot keep up with contact tracing,” the bishop wrote in a Nov. 27 letter.
Bishop Lucia underlined “the need to exercise extreme caution due to the rampant spread of the coronavirus in our communities” and said he believed “we need to stay the course we set out on earlier in the week and follow the current regulations of the ‘Yellow’ and ‘Orange’ zones.”
The bishop’s letter followed the U.S. Supreme Court Nov. 25 siding with the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., and two synagogues in ruling that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pandemic executive order limiting in-person congregations at houses of worship violated their free exercise of religion.
New York’s Micro-Cluster Strategy identifies clusters and categorizes the areas around them into one or more color-coded zones with corresponding levels of restrictions based on the transmission of COVID-19 cases. In Yellow Zones, houses of worship are restricted to 50% of capacity, according to state guidelines. That drops to the lesser of 33% or 25 people in Orange Zones, and the lesser of 25% or 10 people in Red Zones.
Portions of the Diocese of Syracuse were designated “yellow” and “orange” zones last week as coronavirus cases increased.
“Barring a modification in the [state’s] rules, I feel that we must abide by these restrictions for the greater public good,” Bishop Lucia wrote in a Nov. 23 letter to the diocesan community.
On Nov. 27, he reaffirmed that position. “There is an axiom that states, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,'” the bishop wrote. “It is my hope that by taking this cautionary approach now more drastic measures will not have to be taken as we approach the Christmas season.”
The bishop’s full letter appears below:
November 27, 2020
Dear Collaborators in Pastoral Ministry,
On Wednesday this week, parts of the Diocese of Syracuse were placed in “Yellow” and “Orange” zones due to record levels of COVID-19 positive cases in our communities and hospitalizations that are beginning to impact greatly the local health care system. There is concern in the medical community where such numbers are leading and local government officials facing a deluge of cases have admitted they cannot keep up with contact tracing,
There are restrictions placed on public businesses and gatherings in both the “Yellow” and “Orange” zones. For most in the “Yellow” zone, the restrictions are reminders to be more careful in following safety protocols. However, in the “Orange” zone the restrictions involve closures of some businesses, including schools, and reduced occupancy capacity. For Houses of Worship in the “Orange” zone, it is 33% occupancy or no more than 25 congregants at a time.
Now, in the midst of all of these happenings, late Wednesday evening, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled barring restrictions on religious services in New York State. It was in response to legal suits brought by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and representatives of the Jewish faith. Although Chief Justice Roberts was of the dissenting opinion, he did note that, “Numerical capacity limits of 10 and 25 people, depending on the applicable zone, do seem unduly restrictive.”
So on Friday, as we prepare for the beginning of the Advent season and our celebrations of the Lord’s Day, where does this leave us? In my mind, the need to exercise extreme caution due to the rampant spread of the coronavirus in our communities. Last evening, I learned of a Catholic parish in Lewis County where anyone who attended the 11 a.m. Mass this past Sunday are now quarantined for two weeks, including the two priests of the parish. It was not because they didn’t follow protocols, rather someone who was present was asymptomatic and on Monday tested positive and local health officials felt that in order to halt further spread quarantining was necessary.
Such practical knowledge leads me to believe that we need to stay the course we set out on earlier in the week and follow the current regulations of the “Yellow” and “Orange” zones. My one exception would be that we do not turn away those who come to Mass on Sunday who haven’t registered as long as it does not violate our diocesan safety protocols concerning social distancing and occupancy. I believe we have justified reasons to be so cautious at this time and to mitigate the number who might face quarantine. I feel also that in this time where social contact can be heightened due to the Christmas shopping season and gatherings, we must do our part to lead the way in ensuring greater public safety.
There is an axiom that states, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It is my hope that by taking this cautionary approach now more drastic measures will not have to be taken as we approach the Christmas season. I will keep you posted on any future changes, but for this weekend please follow the current regulations in place for the public good. With a brother’s care and the promise of prayer in the coming Advent season,
In the Name of Jesus,
Most Reverend Douglas J. Lucia
Bishop of Syracuse