Officials at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church notified parishioners Saturday that a deacon who had assisted during Mass had tested positive for the coronavirus.
In an email sent to parishioners, the church said Deacon Alfonso Ramirez tested positive for COVID-19 that day.
Ramirez had assisted in the 6:30 p.m. Spanish-language Mass on July 29 and had distributed Communion. The email says the deacon was not showing symptoms and had followed disinfecting protocol — sanitizing his hands, wearing a mask and adhering to proper social distancing measures.
The church was cleaned after the 6:30 p.m. Mass according to required procedures and rules set by the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. The Rev. Tim Thompson, the parish pastor, said the staff cleans all of the areas of the sanctuary that people touch — pews, doors and railings. The bathrooms are disinfected after every service as well. Hymnals and other items that are usually in the pews have been collected and stored.
On Tuesday afternoon, Thompson notified church members in an email that he had been tested following a short illness. Thompson said he had returned from a trip on July 30, returning to North Texas on a flight.
“On Sunday afternoon (Aug. 2nd), I started feeling bad and took my temperature, which was 101. I had a fever that day, along with some chills and aches.”
By Monday, Thompson wrote, the fever had gone, but the aches remained while his appetite vanished.
“By Tuesday morning, I felt my old self,” Thompson wrote.
The diocesan nurse asked him to get a COVID-19 test, and he did before sending an email to the congregation. The Fort Worth Diocese, which governs Denton’s Catholic parishes, asks church leaders to notify their members if staff or volunteers test positive for the virus.
Thompson said Ramirez and the congregation have been following church protocols to celebrate the Eucharist. Under pandemic rules, Eucharistic ministers cannot place the host on a congregant’s tongue; it must be placed in their hands.
“The people who assist with Mass sanitize their hands, they wear a mask, and when people come up to take Communion, they sanitize their hands and wear a mask,” Thompson said. “They are supposed to take the host in their hand, step aside, lower their mask, put the host in their mouth and then put their mask back up,” Thompson said.
“Some people lower their mask before they get the host,” Thompson said, but he hasn’t counseled the congregants who have done so.
“We’ve been pretty adamant about putting the host in the hand. Some people really want the host placed on their tongue, but that’s a risk we’re not going to take,” he said.
The parish discontinued offering Communion wine in January to avoid spreading the flu.
“Any time there is flu, we don’t have any wine,” Thompson said.
The priest is in self-isolation until he gets the results of his COVID-19 test, which could come within 10 days. If he doesn’t receive his results, he won’t lead Mass on Sunday.
Thompson said if he gets a positive test result, he’ll feel fortunate because his symptoms were mild. He said he knows church members need their church for its connections and the faith it teaches.
“I think everybody’s a little depressed,” he said. “I’m not immune to that myself. I try to remember what our faith teaches, and looking back at our history, people have gone through times of suffering. I let faith be my guide. Not my thoughts, not my feelings. My faith.”
Thompson said he feels for the families in his congregation, as the virus has brought about job losses, uncertainty about public school schedules and the loss of loved ones to the pandemic.
“Being sick is part of our human condition, but we’re not defeated by that. We trust God to lead us to better times,” he said. “I’m not suffering the way other people are. I don’t have children, and I’m the last person to lose my job. But what’s heartbreaking is to see people hurting. People losing their jobs and trying to keep their family’s head above water. It’s still heartbreaking.”